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the Quest for 
the Origins of 
Vedic Culture 

The Indo-Aryan 
Migration Debate 


The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

This page intentionally left blank 

The Quest for the Origins 
of Vedic Culture 

The Indo'Aryan Migration Debate 






Oxford New York 

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and associated companies in 
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Copyright © 2001 by Edwin Bryant 

Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 

198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016 

Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, 
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, 
electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording, or otherwise, 
without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Bryant, Edwin 

The quest for the origins of Vedic culture : 
the Indo-Aryan migration debate / Edwin Bryant, 
p. cm. 

Includes biblioeranhicnl reference and index. 

ISBN 0-19-513777-9; ISBN 0-19-516947-6 (PBK) 

1. Indo-Aryans—Origin. 2. India—History—To 324 B.C. 

3. Indus civilization I. Title. 

DS425.B79 2000 
934'.02-dc21 994386274 

First published as an Oxford University Press paperback 2003 

1 35798642 

Printed in the United States of America 
on acid-free paper 

To my father and sister 
for all their support. 
And to Fran, Ted, and Jack 
for making this possible. 

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To Fran Pritchet, for taking me under her wing right from the start; Ted Riccardi, for 
always encouraging me to pursue my intellecmal interests; and Jack Hawley, for making 
sure that I came up to standard. To Gary Tubb, for his comments, meticulous as al¬ 
ways, and to Michael Witzel, for being so generous with his time and vast learning. To 
James Mallory, for extensive comments, and to Kim Plofker, for valuable criticisms. To 
Richard Meadow, Hans H. Hock, Hermut Scharfe, Peter Rahul Das, Jay Jasanoff, and 
Thomas Trautmann for providing feedback on various chapters or sections of this work. 
To Fred Smith, Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, and Vasudha Narayanan for their help. To 
the many scholars whom I had the good fortune to meet in India, and who were so 
generous with their time and hospitality. Needless to say, the views represented herein 
are my own and not necessarily of those who have been kind enough to point out the 
most egregious errors in previous drafts of this work. Special thanks to Matthew Ekstrand- 
Abueg for doing a great job with the maps and diagrams despite the last-minute time 
constraints, and to Martin von Wyss from the Harvard map room; to Fritz Staal for his 
assistance in obtaining the photograph for the cover; to Pia Bryant for her extensive 
editing; to the American Institute of Indian Studies for providing me with a research 
and travel grant, and to the Charlotte Newcombe Foundation for offering me a Ph.D 
write-up grant. 

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Introduction, 3 

1. Myths of Origin: Europe and the Aryan Homeland Quest, 13 

Biblical Origins, 14 

India, the Cradle of Civilization, 18 

The Aryans and Colonial and Missionary Discourse, 21 

German Aryanism, 30 

Two Centuries of Homeland Theories, 35 

Present-Day Homeland Hypotheses, 38 

Conclusion, 43 

2. Early Indian Responses, 46 

Hindu Nationalist Responses, 47 

The First Reactions: Hindu Religious Leaders, 51 

Conclusion, 56 

3. Vedic Philology, 57 

The Racial Evidence, 59 

The West-to-East Geographic Shift in Sanskrit Texts, 63 
Conclusion, 67 

4. Indo-European Comparative Linguistics: The Dethronement of Sanskrit, 68 

The Law of Palatals and the Discovery of Hittite, 69 
Objections from India, 72 
Conclusion, 73 

5. Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts, 76 

Linguistic Innovations in Sanskrit, 78 

Evidence of the Loanwords, 84 

Terms for Flora in Indie Languages, 90 

Place-Names and River Names, 98 

Indo-Aryan, or Dravidian and Munda Migrations?, 102 

Conclusion, 105 

6. Linguistic Paleontology, 108 

Flora and Fauna, 109 
The Horse, 115 



Criticisms of the Method, 120 
Conclusion, 123 

7. Linguistic Evidence from outside of India, 124 

Semitic Loans in Indo-European: Nichols’s Model, 124 

Finno-Ugric Loans, 126 

Other Traces of Indo-Aryan, 129 

The Avestan Evidence, 130 

The Mitanni Treaties, 135 

Conclusion, 138 

8. The Viability of a South Asian Homeland, 140 

Center of Origin Method, 142 

Dialectical Subgroupings: Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s Model, 145 
Nichols’s Sogdiana Model, 151 
Conclusion, 154 

9. The Indus Valley Civilization, 157 

Indra Stands Accused, 157 

The Religion of the Indus Valley, 160 

The Sarasvatl, 165 

The Horse, 169 

The Chariot, 1 75 

The Indus Script, 1 77 

Urbanity and the Rgveda, 184 

Conclusion, 192 

10. Aryans in the Archaeological Record: The Evidence outside the Subcontinent, 197 

Identifying Aryans, 198 
The Northern Route, 202 
The Southern Route, 208 
Two Wave Theories, 217 
Conclusion, 220 

11. Aryans in the Archaeological Record: The Evidence inside the Subcontinent, 224 

Gandhara Grave Culture, 225 
Jhukar Culture, 226 
Cemetery H Culture, 229 
Painted Gray Ware Culture, 229 
Aryans in the Skeletal Record, 230 
Continuity and Innovation, 231 
Conclusion, 236 

12. The Date of the Veda, 238 

Dating Proto-Indo-European, 239 
Dating the Veda, 243 
Astronomy and Vedic Chronology, 251 
The Mathematics of the Sulvasautras, 262 
Conclusion, 264 



13. Aryan Origins and Modern Nationalist Discourse, 267 

Nationalism and Historiography: General Comments, 268 
The Aryans in Hindutva Ideology, 270 
Stereotypes and Counterstereotypes, 275 
Discourses of Suspicion, 286 
Conclusion, 295 

Conclusion, 298 

Notes, 311 

Works Cited, 349 

Index, 381 

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The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

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The solution to the Indo-European problem has been one of the most consuming intel¬ 
lectual projects of the last two centuries. It has captivated the imagination and dedica¬ 
tion of generations of archaeologists, linguists, philologists, anthropologists, historians, 
and all manner of scholarly, and not so scholarly, dilettantes. Predicated on the deduc¬ 
tion that cognate languages necessitate an original protoform spoken by a group of people 
inhabiting a reasonably delineated geographic area, the problem has resulted in a mas¬ 
sive amount of scholarship attempting to reconstruct this protolanguage, locate the original 
homeland where it was spoken, and conjecture on the social and cultural life of the 
protospeakers. Although the endeavor has very much been a preoccupation of European 
scholars, the belief in and pursuit of the origins of European civilization have required 
scholars to attempt to reconstruct and reconfigure the prehistory and protohistories of 
other civilizations whose languages happen to belong to the Indo-European language 

The publicization, in Europe, of the Sanskrit language and of its connection with 
the classical languages of Europe was the catalyst for the whole post-Enlightenment quest 
for the Indo-Europeans that continues, unresolved, to this day. This “discovery” of 
Sanskrit resulted in the earliest history of the Indian subcontinent also being subsumed 
by the problem of European origins. Although India was initially entertained as the 
homeland of all the Indo-Europeans, various arguments were raised against this pro¬ 
posal, and Indian civilization was construed as the joint product of an invading Indo- 
European people—the Indo-Aryan branch of the family—and indigenous non-Indo- 
European peoples. Yet although taking it upon themselves to determine the history of 
the Indian subcontinent in accordance with the currents of scholarship that have ebbed 
and flowed in academic circles in Europe over the decades, Western scholars have gen¬ 
erally been unaware, or dismissive, of voices from India itself that have been critical 
over die years of this European reconstruction of their country’s history. In the words 
of one of the scholars who will be featured here, “However well-meaning such [schol¬ 
ars] . . . and their publications are, they have taken it upon themselves the task of inter¬ 
preting the past heritage of a very large number of people who belong to various nation 
states and may like to formulate their own ideas of the past” (Chakrabarti 1997, 207). 


4 Introduction 

This book is primarily a historiographical study of how various Indian scholars, over 
the course of a century or more, have rejected this idea of an external origin of the Indo- 
Aryans by questioning much of the logic, assumptions, and methods upon which the 
theory is based. The aim of the book is threefold. A primary aim is to excavate mar- 
ginalized points of view reacting against what is perceived as a flawed and biased his¬ 
torical construct. As a corollary of this aim, this work will further complicate the Indo- 
European homeland quest by exposing the whole endeavor to a critique from scholars 
outside mainstream European academic circles who do not share the same intellectual 
history as their Western peers. A further aim of this book is to present a comprehensive 
exposition and analysis of views from within mainstream academic circles addressing 
the issue of Indo-Aryan origins. 

With regard to the primary aim, I have used the term Indigenous Aryanism to denote 
a theme that is common to many of the scholars I examine in this book. This runs the 
risk of essentializing a quite variegated cast of characters, and I merely use the term to 
encompass a position on Indian protohistory that I view as common to most of the 
arguments that I examine. The scholars referred to by this term all share a conviction 
that the theory of an external origin of the Indo-Aryan speaking people on the Indian 
subcontinent has been constructed on flimsy or false assumptions and conjectures. As 
far as such scholars are concerned, no compelling evidence has yet been produced to 
posit an external origin of the Indo-Aryans. 

The various scholars whose work I have examined here are a disparate group. 
They range from brilliant intellectuals like Aurobindo, to professional scholars like 
B. B. Lai, to what most academics would consider “crackpots,” like P. N. Oak. 1 
The primary feature they share is that they have taken it upon themselves to oppose 
the theory of Aryan invasions and migrations—hence the label Indigenous Aryanism. 
Although I am not fully satisfied with my descriptive label, 1 could find no better 
term with which to conveniently refer to my target group. Initially I toyed with the 
idea of contextualizing these arguments into a “traditionalist” framework, with the 
corollary that such material was an encounter or response to modernity, but not all 
the scholars in my target group are traditionally oriented at all; nor do they all by 
any means have problems with modernity. “Indian responses to the Aryan migra¬ 
tion theory” is an obviously inadequate label, since many Indian scholars support 
this hypothesis, and a number of Western scholars have begun to contest it. “Dis¬ 
sident voices from India” failed for similar reasons (the work of several scholars 
not resident in India is discussed herein), as did any thoughts of casting the debate 
in terms of “Hindu” responses to Western scholarship. Indigenous Aryanism is a 
convenient (if somewhat generalized) label, and no more. 

A further qualification is in order at this point. The descriptive label Indigenous Aryanism 
should, in strict linguistic terms, be Indigenous IndoAryanism, since it specifically refers to 
the speakers of the Indie languages. The term Aryan was used to denote the undivided 
Indo-Europeans during most of the nineteenth century, for our purposes, the Indo-Aryans 
are primarily the Vedic- and pre-Vedic-speaking members of the family. However, Aryan 
is often used by the Indian scholars in my survey to denote the Vedic-speaking peoples. 
Since the term is, after all, Sanskrit (and Iranian), I have adopted this denotation, in the 
context of my descriptive label Indigenous Aryanism. Elsewhere, I use Aryan to refer to all 
the Indo-European speakers only in those contexts where the term was used in this gen- 

Introduction 5 

eral way (particularly when quoting nineteenth-century scholars), and the more precise 
term lndo-Aryans to refer to the speakers of Vedic (and related dialects). 

My topic, then, is a debate. It is a debate about which most scholars in the West 
were unaware until very recently, which in itself says something about the balance of 
intellectual power in the academic field of Indology. In order to contextualize the re¬ 
sponses of what I will call the Indigenous Aryan school—to summarize exactly what it 
has been reacting to—the first chapter lays out some of the more prominent features of 
the two-hundred-year history of the Indo-European homeland quest in Europe, particu¬ 
larly as it related to India. The various religious and political exigencies that influenced 
much of the scholarship during this period are touched upon, as are the many view¬ 
points regarding the Indo-European homeland. This should set the scene for the re¬ 
sponses of my target group—the Indigenous Aryanists—who were observing this intel¬ 
lectual melee from outside mainstream Western academic circles. 

Chapter 2 touches briefly on a variety of discourses that appropriated the Aryan theme 
in India in the hope of exploiting it for political or other mileage. The reaction to the 
theory by religious intellectuals is also addressed in this chapter, thus providing a brief 
Indian parallel to the nineteenth-century political and religious concerns of Europe in 
the first chapter. Chapter 3 initiates the analysis of the actual data concerning Indo- 
Aryan origins. By the mid-nineteenth century, one of the few tilings regarding the home¬ 
land that western Indo-European scholars did agree on was that it could not have been 
India; wherever the original homeland might have been the lndo-Aryans at least must 
have come to the subcontinent from outside. While not the slightest bit concerned with 
the homeland obsession of European scholars in general, Indigenous Aryanists soon 
reacted to the corollary of the problem when it impinged on the origins of their own 
culture. It seemed unacceptable to consider that such an enormously speculative gigantean 
and seemingly inconclusive European undertaking should be entitled to make authori¬ 
tative pronouncements on the early history of the Indian subcontinent. The first voices 
of opposition that attempted to utilize critical scholarship to counter the claim that the 
forefathers of the Vedic Indians hailed from outside the subcontinent are introduced in 
this chapter. The initial objections raised concerned the philological evidence that had 
been brought forward as decisive by Western philologist. Since philology was a disci¬ 
pline that resonated with their own traditional Sntti-epistemologies, and since it focused 
on texts in their own ancient language, Vedic Sanskrit, the philological evidence was 
the most easily accessible to Indigenous Aryan scrutiny. Moreover, these texts that were 
suddenly of such interest to Western scholars happened to be their sacred ones, and 
this fueled their concern. 

Chapter 4 traces the dethronement of Sanskrit from its initial position as the origi¬ 
nal protolanguage of all the Indo-Europeans in the opinion of the early linguists, to its 
ongoing diminishing status as a secondary language containing a number of linguistic 
features that are considered to be more recent than other Indo-European cognate lan¬ 
guages. Chapter 5 analyzes the evidence for a non-Indo-Aryan linguistic substratum in 
Sanskrit texts, which has remained perhaps the principal and, to my mind, most per¬ 
suasive reason brought forward in support of the Aryan invasions and migrations. The 
issue here is: Do the Vedic texts preserve linguistic evidence of languages preceding the 
Indo-Aryan presence on the Indian subcontinent? This is an essential aspect of this 
debate but one that has been mostly ignored by Indigenous Aryanists. Chapter 6 exam- 

6 Introduction 

ines various points of view based on the method of linguistic paleontology—one of the 
most exploited disciplines used in the homeland quest, and one also fundamental in 
insisting that the Indo-Aryans had an origin external to the Indian subcontinent. Here 
we will find Indian scholars reconfiguring the same logic and method to arrive at very 
different conclusions from those of their Western counterparts. Chapter 7 deals with 
the linguistic evidence from outside of India, particularly loan words from the Finno- 
Ugric languages, as well as the Mitanni and Avestan evidence, all of which have a direct 
bearing on the problem. Here, too, Indigenists have their own way of accounting for 
this evidence. Chapter 8 deals with other linguistic issues often utilized in the home¬ 
land quest and Indo-Aryan origins, such as dialect geography and the implications of 
the subgroupings of the various cognate languages. It must be stated immediately that 
there is an unavoidable corollary of an Indigenist position. If the Indo-Aryan languages 
did not come from outside South Asia, this necessarily entails that India was the original 
homeland of all the other Indo-European languages. Indo-Aryan was preceded by Indo- 
Iranian, which was preceded, in turn, by Indo-European; so if Indo-Aryan was indig¬ 
enous to India, its predecessors must have been also. Hence, if proto-Indo-European 
was indigenous to India, all the other cognate languages must have emigrated from there. 
Chapters six to eight discuss the possibility and problems of a South Asian homeland. 

Chapter 9 deals with the relationship between the Indus Valley Civilization and the 
Indo-Aryans—a topic that has received a tremendous amount of attention from Indian 
archaeologists and historians. The issue to be discussed in this chapter is whether the 
Indo-Aryans preceded, succeeded, or coexisted with the inhabitants of the Indus Valley 
cities. Chapter 10 outlines some of the scholarship that has attempted to trace the trans- 
Asiatic exodus of the Indo-Aryans on their proposed route to India, across central Asia 
and chapter 11 examines the problems associated with identifying them in the archaeo¬ 
logical record within the subcontinent. Chapter 12 examines the various attempts made 
to date Sanskrit texts upon which, as I shall argue, a tremendous amount hinges. How 
far back can we go with an Indo-Aryan presence on the subcontinent? The final chapter 
discusses some of the more modern ideological underpinnings of this debate in India 
as different forces compete over the construction of national identity. Other concerns 
motivating some of the participants on both sides of the Indigenous Aryan debate will 
also be considered in this chapter. 

I have left this chapter on ideology until last, in order to present the intervening 
chapters on the evidence primarily in the terms, and through the logic and perspectives, 
of the various points of view. However, historical data do not tell their own story: they 
are interpreted. And interpretation emanates from human cognition that is structured 
by each individual’s cultural, religious, political, economic and social circumstances and 
choices. People have a reason to contest or reinterpret history. The present volatile situa¬ 
tion in India has made Western, and many Indian, scholars particularly concerned about 
the repercussions of communal interpretations of history. However, although the pro¬ 
motion of Indigenous Aryanism is undoubtedly extremely important to notions of identity 
and to the politics of legitimacy among certain Hindu nationalists, such concerns are 
not representative of all the scholars who have supported this point of view. Unfortu¬ 
nately, the whole Indigenous Aryan position is often simplistically stereotyped, and 
conveniently demonized, both in India and in the West, as a discourse exclusively 
determined by such agendas. This bypasses other concerns also motivating such 

Introduction 7 

reconsideration of history: the desire of many Indian scholars to reclaim control over 
the reconstruction of the religious and cultural history of their country from the legacy 
of imperial and colonial scholarship. In chapter 13 I discuss the manifold concerns 
that I perceive as motivating Indigenous Aryanists to undertake a reconsideration of 
this issue. I argue that although there are doubtlessly nationalistic and, in some quar¬ 
ters, communal agendas lurking behind some of this scholarship, a principal feature is 

On a personal note, l am accordingly sympathetic to the Indigenous Aryan “school” 
(if, simply for ease of reference, I might be permitted to reify my motley group as a 
school) when I view it as a manifestation of a postcolonial rejection of European intel¬ 
lectual hegemony (since most of the voices are from India), especially since my analysis 
has led me to realize exactly how malleable much of the evidence involved actually is. 
This does not mean that the Indigenous Aryan position is historically probable. The 
available evidence by no means denies the normative view—that of external Aryan origins 
and, if anything, favors it. But this view has had more than its fair share of airing over 
the last two centuries, and the Indigenous Aryan position has been generally ignored or 
marginalized. What it does mean, in my view, is that Indigenous Aryanism must be 
allowed a legitimate and even valuable place in discussions of Indo-Aryan origins. 

I am emphatically not sympathetic to the elements of the Indigenous Aryan school 
that I perceive as utilizing this debate to construct illusory notions of an indigenous 
Aryan pedigree so as to thereby promote the supposed Hindu descendants of these Indo- 
Aryans as the original and rightful “sons of the soil” in a modern Hindu nation-state. 
As an aside, this is illusory not only from a historico-philological perspective but also 
from the perspective of almost the entirety of the philosophical systems associated with 
what is known as Hinduism. Vedantic discourse, for one, would consider nationalism 
(whether Hindu, American, English, or anything else) to be simply another upadhi, or 
false designation, imposed on the dtman out of ignorance (“Hindu nationalism” from 
this perspective, is something of an oxymoron). Needless to say, any prioritization of 
the Hindus can only be at the expense of the “Other,” namely, the non-Hindu commu¬ 
nities—specifically Muslims and Christians. Since my task is to be receptive to all ratio¬ 
nal points of view, including the more cogent interpretations of the Indigenous Aryan 
school, there have been many moments when 1 have regretted undertaking this research 
for fear that it might be misconstrued and adapted to suit ideological agendas. This 
concern very much remains as a dark cloud hovering over what has otherwise been an 
intriguing and intellectually very fulfilling research project. 

On the other hand, and again on a personal note, I am also concerned at what I 
perceive to be a type of Indological McCarthyism creeping into areas of Western, as 
well as certain Indian, academic circles, whereby, as will be discussed in chapter 13, 
anyone reconsidering the status quo of Indo-Aryan origins is instantly and a priori dubbed 
a nationalist, a communalist, or, even worse, a Nazi. Since I have observed that many 
scholars, when confronted with “Indigenous” voices of dissension, immediately assume 
that it must be just another manifestation of Hindu nationalist discourse (even without 
being aware of the linguistic and archaeological issues at stake), a few words on this 
issue might be in order at this point. 

There is a major difference in focus between nationalism and anti-imperialism al¬ 
though they overlap in a number of ways. Nationalism involves attempts to concoct 

8 Introduction 

notions of shared identity in order to unify a variety of individuals and social groups 
into a cohesive political and territorial body in contradistinction to other such bodies— 
Anderson’s “imagined” communities. Communalism, as understood in the context of 
academic discourse about India, also involves attempts to construct political unity be¬ 
tween individuals and groups, but it is predicated on notions of shared religious affili¬ 
ation that is distinct from that of other groups who are perceived as identifying with 
different religious communities. Anti-imperialism and anticolonialism, on the other hand, 
are the opposition, by a group of people, to alien power—often advantaged because of 
superior technology—to which it has been subjected against its will. It is a struggle against 
an oppressive, and generally stifling, force. 

The alien power opposed by the anti-imperialist voices of the Indigenous Aryan school 
is intellectual: it consists of the construction of early Indian history by Western scholars 
using their “superior technology” in the form of linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, 
philology, and so forth. The version of historical events arrived at by these means was 
then imposed on the native population in hegemonic fashion. Indigenous Aryanism, 
from this perspective, is an attempt to adopt this same technology to challenge the co¬ 
lonial power (or the heritage it has left behind), to test its foundation, to see how accu¬ 
rate the Aryan migration hypothesis actually is by examining it with die same equip¬ 
ment, the same disciplines of archaeology, and so on, that were used to construct it in 
the first place. Obviously, in so doing it has been co-opted into a Western critical para¬ 
digm and has adopted the vocabulary and conceptual structures of the discourse (indeed, 
all of the arguments considered here are from English medium publications). 2 It is none¬ 
theless an attempt to reclaim control over indigenous affairs—in this case die writing of 
Indian history—from the power of scholars who are perceived as being motivated and 
untrustworthy in their scholarship due to their status as imperialists, colonizers and 
rulers (and from the heirs of such scholars). In Gramscian terms, colonial intellectuals 
are seen as the “functionaries,” the “deputies,” of the coercive dominant power. 

Naturally, perceiving a power to be alien necessitates defining oneself, and others 
like oneself, as native, and so anti-imperialism and nationalism often go hand in hand. 
Therefore, rejection of the Aryan migration—Indigenous Aryanism—has been co-opted 
into both anti-imperial and nationalist discourses. But there is a difference in focus 
between these two agendas, and it is this that I wish to emphasize. The focus of those 
who promote Indigenous Aryanism for nationalist purposes is to try to show that the 
Hindus are an integral, indigenous people who have always had the ingredients required 
for a nation-state in the form of a shared culmral past with clear links to the present: the 
“Vedic” culture. New nations paradoxically claim to be the opposite of novel, namely, 
rooted in the remotest antiquity; nationalists coopt archaeology, philology, and linguis¬ 
tics in efforts to “prove” that the imagined nation has always existed. In the postcolonial 
climate of South Asia, this discourse shares many permeable borders with, and can clearly 
spill over into, communal discourse. The focus, in this latter case, is to set up a juxta¬ 
position between those linked religiously (in however generalized ways) with the Vedic 
rubric in opposition to those not affiliated with any notion of Vedic identity—specifi¬ 
cally the Muslim and Christian minorities. (Here, too, a paradox can arise when disci¬ 
plines that are empirical in nature are adopted in attempts to prove scripmral authentic¬ 
ity, which is transcendental in nature, to legitimize notions of identity that are based 
upon them.) 

Introduction 9 

The anti-imperialist concern, in contrast, is the rejection of the Aryan invasion hy¬ 
pothesis on the grounds that it is an alien intellectual import, assembled by Europeans 
as a result of exigencies, initially religious and then imperial, that were prevalent in 
nineteenth-century Europe. The theory was exported to the colonies, where it was intro¬ 
duced by an imperial, colonial power in order to serve imperial, colonial interests. Some 
Indigenous Aryanists construe this process as being a conscious one: planned and con¬ 
spiratorial; others regard it as unconscious and the result of the inevitable bias and self- 
centered modes of interpretation that are inherent in the human psyche. The point I 
stress in chapter 13 is that not all Indigenous Aryanists are necessarily interested in the 
construction of notions of Hindu Aryan greatness or, with some exceptions, in the 
promotion of communal agendas. In much of the literature I have read, and in count¬ 
less hours of interviews, an overwhelming concern of Indigenous Aryanists is to reex¬ 
amine what is suspected of being a false account of Indian history concocted by Euro¬ 
pean imperialists—an account that does not correspond to the “facts” even when analyzed 
by the modern processes of critical scholarship. In short, the Aryan invasion hypothesis 
is seen by many Indian historians as an Orientalist production. As a result, Indigenous 
Aryanism can be partly situated within the parameters of postcolonial studies. 

Having said all this, I do not intend to suggest that the Indigenous Aryan school is 
somehow angelically engaged in the disinterested quest for pure knowledge. There is 
no disinterested quest for knowledge. Many Indigenous Aryanists are, indeed, engaged 
in the search for self-definition in the modern context. Some are Hindu nationalists, 
and some do engage in communal polemics. But much has been written on Hindu 
“revisionism” from this perspective; rather than a priori pigeonholing the Indigenous 
Aryan school into simplistic and conveniently demonized “communal,” “revisionist,” 
or “nationalist” molds that can then be justifiably ignored, this study is an attempt to 
analyze and articulate some of the actual empirical objections being raised to tire colo¬ 
nial construction of Indian pre- and protohistory. This book, accordingly, is primarily 
an examination of the empirical, historical evidence—philological, archaeological, lin¬ 
guistic, and so on—and how this has been interpreted both to support the theory of 
Aryan migrations and to contest it. However, since interpretations take place only in a 
specific context, a secondary aim is to touch upon (and no more) some aspects of the 
religious and political forces, in both Europe and India, that influenced and continue 
to influence, the prioritization of certain interpretive possibilities and the exclusion of 

A note on method. My intention herein has been not so much to take sides in the 
actual debate but to present the interpretations of the evidence from all rational per¬ 
spectives and point out the various assumptions underlying them—this book is intended 
to be a reasonably thorough exposition of the entire problem of Indo-Aryan origins. 
Each chapter outlines some of the main features of the history of the data covered in 
that particular chapter. Since the relevant matieral is usually so voluminous, however, I 
have limited my selection to data that have either attracted responses from the Indig¬ 
enous Aryan school or that are indispensable to a discussion on the origins of the Indo- 
Aryans. This book is not a comprehensive history of the greater Indo-European prob¬ 
lem, but of the Indo-Aryan side of the family. 

I have not hesitated to state my own opinion on the value of some of the arguments 
being contested, and my organization and presentation of the material will reveal much 

1 0 Introduction 

about my own estimation of the merit of some of these points of view. Nonetheless, my 
primary project has been to present the debate in its own terms, hence my decision to 
quote as much as possible so that the primary voices involved can be heard in their 
own right rather than paraphrased. I hold it important that marginalized points of view 
that have made a valuable contribution to this issue be brought into a more mainstream 
academic context, and it is often edifying to confront as much of the primary tone of the 
debate as possible. From the Indigenous Aryan side, the tone of these responses reveals 
much about how a historical construct that is taken very much for granted by most of 
us—the Aryan invasion/migration theory—is viewed when seen through very different 
cultural, religious, and political perspectives. 

I have taken material from a wide variety of contexts if I feel that it can contribute to 
the debate. I have found that someone, Western or Indian, who can make an astonish- 
ingly infantile argument or reveal an alarming lack of critical awareness in one place 
can make a penetrating and even brilliant comment in another. Not all the scholars 
referred to herein are necessarily schooled in the same intellectual environments, versed 
in state-of-the-art academic rhetoric and vocabulary, or familiar with the latest concep¬ 
tual structures current in Western academia. Nor do all scholars in India have any¬ 
where near as much access to the latest cutting-edge scholarship or even, sometimes, 
basic seminal material as their Western colleagues. I have not rejected any worthwhile 
argument even if it is situated in a greater context that many would consider unworthy 
of serious academic attention; not all the arguments quoted here are from professional 
scholars, but I have allotted space to anyone whom I believe has anything valuable to 
contribute to the issue. I have taken it upon myself to wade through a good deal of, to 
put it mildly, substandard material in search of nuggets—but nuggets are to be found. 

I have also separated my discussion of the evidence from discussion of the religio- 
political context of its interpretation: chapters 3 to 12 focus on the former, and chapters 
1, 2, and 13 discuss the latter. Talageri the linguist has been critiqued in the chapters 
on linguistics, and Talageri the nationalist has been dealt with in the chapter on nation¬ 
alism. The validity of a particular interpretation of some aspect of the data has not been 
minimized because of the author’s overt religious or political bias, however distasteful 
they might be to the sensitivities of those of us who do not share those values. Ignoring 
a serious attempt to analyze data because of the author’s ideological orientations does 
not invalidate the arguments being offered, or make them disappear. On the contrary, 
they resurface, often more aggressively because of having been ignored. I have attempted 
to analyze, as objectively as possible, any serious interpretation of the data that might 
further the task of accurately reconstructing proto-history, while also, in separate chap¬ 
ters, drawing attention to any ideological agendas that might favor the promotion of a 
particular point of view. 

I would lie to note that while I have had training in historical Indo-European lin¬ 
guistics and in South Asia as a linguistic region, I am not an Indo-Europeanist—although 
I hold the contributions of this field indispensable to our knowledge of South Asian 
pre- and proto-history. I approach this material from the perspective of a historian of 
ancient Indian religions and cultures. I beg the indulgence of the specialists and request 
that I be forgiven for any errors in technical linguistic detail that they might encounter 
in these chapters, and that I be judged, rather, on my more general analysis of the data 
and of the conclusions that they can generate in matters pertaining to the origins of the 



Indo-Aryans. I should also note that while I would like to think that this work might be 
of some interest to Indo-Europeanists, if only from a historiographical point of view, or 
from the perspective of the history of ideas, it is primarily intended for those involved 
in and interested in South Asian studies. With this audience in mind, I have elimi¬ 
nated all techincal linguistic detail that is not essential to illuminating the general lin¬ 
guistic principles and theories relevant to the quest for the Indo-Aryans. 

In my fieldwork in South Asia, as well as in my research thereafter, I have had ade¬ 
quate opportunity to discuss the South Asian archaeological evidence with specialists in 
the field, although, here again, specialists will likely recognize that I am not an archae¬ 
ologist. Nor am I a historian of science, despite my lengthy treatment of the astronomi¬ 
cal evidence. Ultimately, in the hyper-specialized academic culture of our day, it is not 
possible for a single individual to have expertise in all of the disciplines and subdisci¬ 
plines demanded by a topic such as this. I request my critics to consider that no one 
can be a specialist in nineteenth-century historiography in Europe, nineteenth-century 
historiography in India, Vedic philology, Avestan Studies, historical Indo-European lin¬ 
guistics, South Asian linguistics, Central Asia as a linguistic area, the archaeology of 
Central Asian, the archaeology of the Indian subcontinent, astronomy, and modern 
Hindu nationalism, to name only some of the areas covered here. Anyone attempting a 
multidisciplinary overview of such a vast amount of material will necessarily need cor¬ 
rections from the specialists in any of these fields. 1 hope that my efforts have at least 
been successful in gathering most of the materials relevant to the origins fo the Indo- 
Aryans, shedding some light on why these materials might be contested, and perhaps 
invoking further discussions by scholars more qualified then myself in these respective 

Perhaps this is an opportune moment to reveal my own present position on the Indo- 
European problem. I am one of a long list of people who do not believe that the avail¬ 
able data are sufficient to establish anything very conclusive about an Indo-European 
homeland, culture, or people. I am comfortable with the assumptions that cognate lan¬ 
guages evolve from a reasonably standardized protoform (provided this is allowed con¬ 
siderable dialectal variation) that was spoken during a certain period of human history 
and culture in a somewhat condensed geographic area that is probably somewhere in 
the historically known Indo-European-speaking area (although I know of no solid grounds 
for excluding the possibility that this protolanguage could have originated outside of 
this area). 

However, regarding homelands, I differ from most Western scholars in that I find 
myself hard pressed to absolutely eliminate the possibility that the eastern part of this 
region could be one possible candidate among several, albeit not a particularly convinc¬ 
ing one, provided this area is delimited by Southeast Central Asia, Afghanistan, present- 
day Pakistan, and the northwest of the subcontinent (rather than the Indian subconti¬ 
nent proper). I hasten to stress that it is not that the evidence favors this area as a possible 
homeland—on the contrary, there has been almost no convincing evidence brought for¬ 
ward in support of a homeland this far east. As we shall see, the issue is that problems 
arise when one tries to prove that the Indo-Aryans were intrusive into this area from an 
outside homeland. In other words, one has almost no grounds to argue for a South 
Asian Indo-European homeland from where the other speakers of the Indo-European 
language departed, but one can argue that much of the evidence brought forward to 



document their entrance into the subcontinent is problematic. These are two separate, 
but obviously overlapping, issues. 

Coupled with the problems that have been raised against all homeland candidates, 
these issues have caused me conclude that, in the absence of radically new evidence or 
approaches to the presently available evidence, theories on the homeland of the Indo- 
European speaking peoples will never be convincingly proven to the satisfaction of even 
a majority of scholars. This skepticism especially applies to the theories of some Indian 
scholars who have attempted to promote India as a Homeland. I know of no unprob¬ 
lematic means of re-creating a convincing history of the Indo-Aryan speakers prior to 
the earliest proto-historic period, at which time they were very much situated in the 
Northwest of the subcontinent (as, of course, were other Indo-European speakers else¬ 
where). I do not feel compelled to venture any opinions beyond this: how the cognate 
languages got to be where they were in prehistory is as unresolved today, in my mind, 
as it was two hundred years ago when William Jones announced the Sanskrit language 
connection to a surprised Europe. The Indigenous Aryan critique has certainly been 
one of the formative influences on my own point of view. In my opinion, this critique 
not only merits attention in its own right but, also, perhaps more important, must be 
addressed by western scholars, since it is rapidly rising in prominence in the country 
whose history is most directly at stake. 


Myths of Origin 

Europe and the Aryan Homeland Quest 

The Indigenous Aryan debate can only be understood in the context of the history of 
the greater Indo-European homeland quest in Europe. The purpose of this chapter is to 
outline the most prominent features of this history that are most directly connected with 
the problems of Indo-Aryan origins. Indigenous Aryanists are almost universally suspi¬ 
cious of the motives surrounding the manner in which evidence was interpreted and 
construed by British and European scholars in the colonial period. It is important to 
clearly excavate the various biases that influenced the epistemes of the time before at¬ 
tempting to consider the evidence itself. This chapter will address some of the more 
blatant ideological and religious attitudes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in 
the West that co-opted Aryan discourse in some form or fashion. Since there have been 
a number of studies focused on the general history of Indo-European Studies, I will 
focus only on the aspects of this history that are of particular relevance to the Indian 
side of the family. 

One common characteristic of Indigenous Aryan discourse is the tendency to dwell 
on, and reiterate, the blatant excesses of nineteenth-century scholarship. This is per¬ 
fectly understandable, and even justified, provided that one proceeds from such analyses 
to engage and address the more state-of-the-art views current in our present-day academic 
milieus. The function of this chapter is not just to tar and feather all eighteenth- and 
nineteenth-century scholars as racists and bigots in order to reject all and any conclu¬ 
sions formulated in that period as a priori tainted, but to thoroughly acknowledge the 
extremities within Western intellectual circles of the time. Only once all that is openly 
on the table can one attempt to extrapolate the data from the interpretational constraints 
of the time and move on to reexamine it all anew, albeit from within the contextual 
constraints of our own. Accordingly, although massive advances were made in the nine- 


14 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

teenth century in the study of ancient India by many dedicated and sincere scholars, 
this chapter will focus on the more biased and ideological appropriations of Aryan dis¬ 
course in Europe. After these elements have been adequately processed and acknowl¬ 
edged, we can move forward, hopefully somewhat free from the ghosts of the past, to 
reexamine the actual evidence from the perspectives of our own present-day postcolonial 
academic culture. 

Biblical Origins 

Scholars and thinkers of the late eighteenth century, enthusiastically pushing forward 
the scientific and intellectual frontiers that had become accessible in post-Enlightenment 
Europe, found themselves grappling with the historicity of Old Testament chronology. 
The discovery, through expanding European colonies, of other cultures claiming pedi¬ 
grees of vast antiquity; developments in linguistics; and the proliferation of “hard” ar¬ 
chaeological evidence provoked a drastic reevaluation of biblical narrative in matters of 
human origins. Features such as the monogenic descent from Adam, the evolution of 
all human language from the monolingual descendants of Noah, and the brief period 
that seemed to be allotted to the dispersion of the human race after the Flood became 
the subjects of intense debates. As the first pioneering British scholars in India began 
to discover Sanskrit texts, the promise of hitherto unknown historical information be¬ 
coming revealed to Europeans became the cause of both great anticipation and episte¬ 
mological anxiety. 

Sir William Jones, the first Indologist to attempt a serious synchronization of bibli¬ 
cal and Puranic chronology, exemplifies the tensions of his time. His predecessors, British 
scholars John Holwell, Nathaniel Halhed, and Alexander Dow—all associated in vari¬ 
ous capacities with the British East India Trading Company—had relayed back to an 
eager Europe gleanings from Puranic sources that described an immense antiquity for 
the human race. 1 These provided the ranks of disaffected Christians, such as the vocif¬ 
erous Voltaire, with valuable materials with which to attempt to shake off the constraints 
of Judeo-Christian chronology and to refute Jewish or Christian claims to exclusive 
mediation between man and Providence. Holwell, for one, believed that the Hindu texts 
contained a higher revelation than the Christian ones, that they predated the Flood, 
and that “the mythology, as well as the cosmogony of the Egyptians, Greeks and Ro¬ 
mans, were borrowed from the doctrines of the Brahmins” (Marshall 1970, 46). Halhed, 
too, seemed to take the vast periods of time assigned to the four yugas quite seriously, 
since “human reason . . . can no more reconcile to itself the idea of Patriarchal. . . lon¬ 
gevity” of a few thousand years for the entire span of the human race (Marshall, 1931, 
159). Dow was instrumental in presenting Europe with a deistic image of India whose 
primitive truths owed nothing to either Jews or Christians. Such challenges stirred up 
considerable controversy in Europe, fueled by intellectuals such as Voltaire adopting 
such material in endeavors to undermine biblical historicity. 

Naturally, such drastic innovations were bitterly opposed by other segments of the 
intelligentsia. For well over a millennium, much of Europe had accepted the Old Tes¬ 
tament as an infallible testament documenting the history of the human race. Thomas 
Maurice, for example, complained bitterly in 1812 about “the daring assumptions of 


Myths of Origin 

certain skeptical French philosophers with respect to the Age of the World . . . argu¬ 
ments principally founded on the high assumptions of the Brahmins . . . [which] have 
a direct tendency to overturn the Mosaic system, and, with it, Christianity.” Such schol¬ 
ars were greatly relieved by “the fortunate arrival of. . . the various dissertations, on the 
subject, of Sir William Jones” (22-23). Jones was just as concerned about the fact that 
“some intelligent and virtuous persons are inclined to doubt the authenticity of the ac¬ 
counts delivered by Moses.” In his estimation, too, “either the first eleven chapters of 
Genesis ... are true, or the whole fabrick of our national religion is false, a conclusion 
which none of us, I trust, would wish to be drawn” (Jones 1788, 225). 

Eager to settle the matter, Jones undertook the responsibility of unraveling Indian 
chronology for the benefit and appeasement of his disconcerted colleagues: “I propose 
to lay before you a concise history of Indian chronology extracted from Sanskrit books, 
attached to no system, and as much disposed to reject Mosaick history, if it be proved 
erroneous, as to believe it, if it be confirmed by sound reason from indubitable evi¬ 
dence” (Jones 1790a, 111). Despite such assurances, Jones’s own predispositions on 
this matter were revealed in several earlier written statements: “I. . . am obliged of course 
to believe the sanctity of the venerable books [of Genesis]” (1788, 225); Jones (1790) 
concluded his researches by claiming to have “traced the foundation of the Indian empire 
above three thousand eight hundred years from now” (145), that is to say, safely within 
the confines of Bishop Usher’s creation date of 4004 b.c.e. and, more important, within 
the parameters of the Great Flood, which Jones considered to have occurred in 2350 


Such undertakings afford us a glimpse of some of the tensions that many European 
scholars were facing in their encounter with India at the end of the eighteenth century; 
the influence of the times clearly weighed heavily. However, Jones’s compromise with 
the biblical narrative did make the new Orientalism safe for Anglicans: “Jones in effect 
showed that Sanskrit literature was not an enemy but an ally of the Bible, supplying 
independent corroboration of the Bible’s version of history” (Trautmann, 1997, 74). 
Jones’s chronological researches did manage to calm the waters somewhat and “effec¬ 
tively guaranteed that the new admiration for Hinduism would reinforce Christianity 
and would not work for its overthrow” (74). Trautmann notes that, for the most part, 
up until the early part of the nineteenth century, British Indomania was excited about 
the discovery of Hinduism for several reasons: it provided independent confirmation of 
the Bible; its religion contained the primitive truth of natural religion still in practice, a 
unitary truth from which the forms of paganism of Rome and Greece were perverted 
offshoots; and its arts and cultures were connected to Egypt’s (64). 

Jones’s much more lasting contribution, and one generally recognized by linguists as 
the birth of historical linguistics, was his landmark address to the Royal Asiatic Society 
of Bengal in 1786. This, by constant quotation, has by now become the mangaldcara of 
comparative philology: 

The Sanskrit language, whatever may be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more 
perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than 
either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in 
the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, 
indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have 
sprang from some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar 

1 6 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, 
though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and 
the old Persian might be added to the same family, (Jones 1788, 415-431) 

Significantly, this statement was almost a paraphrase of a not so well known declaration 
made over a century previously (in 1668) by one Andreas Jager in Wittenberg, before 
the discovery of the Sanskrit language: 

An ancient language, once spoken in the distant past in the area of the Caucasus moun¬ 
tains and spreading by waves of migration throughout Europe and Asia, had itself ceased 
to be spoken and had left no linguistic monuments behind, but had as a “mother” gen¬ 
erated a host of “daughter languages”. . . . (Descendants of the ancestral language in¬ 
clude Persian, Greek, Italic, . . , the Slavonic languages, Celtic, and finally Gothic. (Quoted 
in Metcalf 1974, 233) 

Attempts to demonstrate that the disparate languages of the world stemmed from a com¬ 
mon source long predated the discovery of Sanskrit. As early as 1610, J. j. Scaliger was 
able to distinguish eleven European language groups, such as Germanic, Slavic, and 
Romance, and was noteworthy for his time in challenging the idea that these languages 
derived from Hebrew—the opinion prevalent in his day. 2 

The idea of a common source—initially considered to be Hebrew—for all languages, 
which, it is important to note, was always associated with a common people, was taken 
for granted by most scholars in Europe until well after the Enlightenment. The idea was 
inbedded in the biblical version of history, in which Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Shem, 
and Ham, were generally accepted as being the progenitors of the whole of humanity. 3 
Prior to the construction of the city of Babel, there was one human race speaking one 
language. These linguistically unified and racially integral people were subsequently 
dispersed and scattered over the face of the earth. This theme, even when stripped of its 
biblical trappings, was to remain thoroughly imprinted in European consciousness until 
well into the twentieth century. 

In 1768, even before the affinities of Sanskrit with the Indo-European languages had 
been officially broadcast by Jones, Pere Coeurdoux foreshadowed much present-day 
opinion regarding the point of origin of this language by stating that “the Samskroutam 
language is that of the ancient Brahmes; they came to India . . . from Caucasia. Of the 
sons of Japhet, some spoke Sarhskroutam” (quoted in Trautmann 1997, 54). Once San¬ 
skrit had become accessible to British scholars, its connection with the classical lan¬ 
guages of Europe was suspected even before Jones’s proclamation. Halhed had noted 
the possibility a few years earlier. James Parsons, too, physician and fellow of the Royal 
Society and of the Society of Antiquities, had also associated Indie with die European 
languages in 17 76. In fact, almost two centuries earlier still, the Italian Jesuit Filippo Sassetti, 
who lived in Goa in the 1580s, had noted that in the language “there are many of our 
terms, particularly the numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9, God, snakes and a number of other things” 
(Marcucci 1855, 445). Jones’s status and reputation, however, ensured diat news of this 
language connection reverberated through die academic halls of Europe. 

Once die discovery of Sanskrit as a language related to the European languages had 
been made public, it precipitated post-Enlightenment trends toward disaffiliation from 
Genesis. It was a traumatic time for Europe. As Max Muller , who “look[ed] upon the 
account of Creation as given in Genesis as simply historical” (1902, 481), later remi- 

Myths of Origin l 7 

nisced: “All one’s ideas of Adam and Eve, and the Paradise, and the tower of Babel, 
and Shem, Ham, and Japhet, with Homer and Aeneas and Virgil too, seemed to be 
whirling round and round, till at last one picked up the fragments and tried to build a 
new world, and to live with a new historical consciousness” (Muller 1883, 29). This 
“new world,” however, retained much of the old, and the biblical framework of one 
language, one race was transmitted completely intact. Even after developments in lin¬ 
guistics had irremediably established the existence of numerous completely distinct lan¬ 
guage families, and the times no longer required scholars to orient their positions around 
a refutation or defense of Old Testament narrative, the biblical heritage continued to 
survive in a modified form: the idea of one language family for the superior civilizations 
of Europe, Persia, and India—the Aryan, or Indo-European, language family—continued 
to be associated with the fountainhead of a distinct people that had originated in a specific 
geographical homeland. 

The correlation of race and language, an assumption that still occasionally continues 
to haunt discussions on the Indo-Europeans, was reinforced by the very vocabulary 
adopted by the fledgling science of linguistics: Jager, as we have noted, referred to “mother” 
languages generating “daughters.” This genealogically derived vocabulary later became es¬ 
tablished as standard linguistic parlance by Schleicher, whose basic paradigm of the fam¬ 
ily tree of languages is still in use, albeit usually in modified form. As Trautmann notes: 
“This tree paradigm remains very much the foundation of historical linguistics to this day, 
although a kind of willful collective amnesia has tended to suppress its biblical origins. 
... In the self-conception of linguistics there came to be a strong tendency to imagine 
that its central conceptual structure comes from comparative anatomy and to forget that 
it comes from the Bible” (1997, 57). The influence of the Bible, initially overtly and 
subsequently in a more inadvertent or subconscious fashion, pervaded the entire field 
of Indo-European studies in its formative stages throughout the nineteenth century: 

The authors of the nineteenth century were hostages, as we are no doubt too, to the 
questions they set themselves. Though they cast aside the old theological questions, they 
remained attached to the notion of a providential history. Although they borrowed the 
techniques of positivist scholarship, took inspiration from methods perfected by natural 
scientists, and adopted the new perspective of comparative studies, they continued to be 
influenced by the biblical presuppositions that defined the ultimate meaning of their work. 
Despite differences in outlook, Renan, Max Muller, Pictet and many others joined ro¬ 
manticism with positivism in an effort to preserve a common allegiance to the doctrines 
of Providence. (Olinder 1992, 20) 

Another instant by-product of the discovery of Sanskrit was that a dramatic new 
ingredient had been added to Europe’s quest for linguistic and racial origins. Up to this 
point, many European scholars, such as James Parsons in 1767, tended to be “persuaded 
that these mountains of Ararat, upon which the ark rested, [were] in Armenia; and that 
the plains in their neighborhood were the places where Noah and his family dwelt, 
immediately after they left the ark” (10). Even after Sanskrit had been “discovered,” 
many scholars would not stray too far from this location. Jones himself was emphatic 
that the “primeval events” of the construction of the Tower of Babel and the subse¬ 
quent scattering of the original monolanguage into different tongues “are described as 
having happened between the Oxus and Euphrates, the mountains of the Caucus and 
the borders of India, that is within the limits of Iran.” There was no doubt about this, 

18 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

since “the Hebrew narrative [is] more than human in its origin and consequently true 
in every substantial part of it.” Therefore, “it is no longer probable only, but absolutely 
certain, that the whole race of man proceeded from Iran, whence they migrated at first 
in three great colonies [those of Shem, Japhet, and Ham]; and that those three branches 
grew from a common stock” (Jones 1792, 486-487). 

India, the Cradle of Civilization 

Other scholars, however, upon learning of these linguistic (and therefore racial) connec¬ 
tions of the distant Indie languages, felt that radical alternatives to the Armenian point 
of origin had now gained legitimacy. India, in particular, was a popular candidate, espe¬ 
cially among segments of the intelligentsia in the late eighteenth century and first half 
of the nineteenth century, and especially (but not exclusively) on the Continent. As it 
had done in classical times, India again captured the imagination of Romantic Europe. 
The astronomer Bailly, the first mayor of Paris, was very influential in popularizing Indian 
wisdom. In 1777, after some deliberation, he situated the earliest humans on the banks 
of the Ganges. Even before Jones’s announcement, Bailly stated that “the Brahmans 
are the teachers of Pythagoras, the instructors of Greece and through her of the whole 
of Europe” (51). Voltaire voiced his agreement: “In short, Sir, I am convinced that 
everything—astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc.—comes to us from the banks of 
the Ganges” (Bailly 1777, 4). 

The French naturalist and traveler Pierre de Sonnerat (1 782) also believed all knowl¬ 
edge came from India, which he considered the cradle of the human race. In 1807, the 
well-known metaphysician Schelling could wonder “what is Europe really but a sterile 
trunk which owes everything to Oriental grafts?” (Poliakov 1971, 11). A year later, the 
influential Friedrich von Schlegel argued that “the Northwest of India must be consid¬ 
ered the central point from which all of these nations had their origin” (505). In 1845, 
Eichhoff was adamant that “all Europeans come from the Orient. This truth, which is 
confirmed by the evidence of physiology and linguistics, no longer needs special proof’ 
(12). Even as late as 1855, Lord A. Curzon, the governor-general of India and eventual 
chancellor of Oxford, was still convinced that “the race of India branched out and 
multiplied into that of the great Indo-European family. . . . The Aryans, at a period as 
yet undetermined, advanced towards and invaded the countries to the west and north¬ 
west of India, [and] conquered the various tribes who occupied the land.” European 
civilization, in his view, was initiated by the Indian Aryans: “They must have imposed 
their religion, institutions, and language, which later obliterated nearly all the traces of 
the former non-Aryan language, or languages, of the conquered tribes” (172-173). 
Michelet held that the Vedas “were undoubtedly the first monument of the world” (1864, 
26) and that from India emanated “a torrent of light and the flow of reason and Right” 
(485). He proclaimed that “the migrations of mankind follow the route of the sun from 
East to West along the sun’s course. ... At its starting point, man arose in India, the 
birthplace of races and of religions, the womb of the world” (Febvre 1946, 95-96). 

According to Poliakov, it was Johann-Gottfried Herder, a Lutheran pastor, who (along 
with Kant) placed the homeland in Tibet, who was influential in introducing the pas¬ 
sion for India into Germanic lands and prompting the imagination of the Romantics to 


Myths of Origin 

seek affiliation with Mother India. Herder (1803) objected that “the pains that have 
been taken, to make of all the people of the earth, according to this genealogy, descen¬ 
dants of the Hebrew, and half-brothers of the Jews, are contrary not only to chronology 
and universal history but to the true point of view of the narrative itself.” As far as he 
was concerned, “the central point of the largest quarter of the Globe, the primitive moun¬ 
tains of Asia, prepared the first abode of the human race” (517-18). 

Although it was suspected, in some circles, that the enthusiastic acceptance of India 
as the cradle of the human race was a reaction against biblical chronological hegemony, 
the position did not initially appear to be without foundation: the new science of his¬ 
torical linguistics originally seemed to lend some support to this possibility because early 
linguists tended to treat Vedic Sanskrit as identical or almost identical to the original 
Indo-European mother tongue due to the antiquity of its textual sources. 0ones was 
actually exceptionally “modern” in considering Sanskrit, along with the other Indo- 
European languages, to be co-descendants of an earlier ancestor language, rather than 
the original language.) Linguists of the time believed that Sanskrit showed more struc¬ 
tural regularity than its cognate languages, which, in keeping with the Romantic worldview, 
indicated that it was more “original” than Greek and the other cognate languages. Lord 
Monboddo, (1774), for example, felt that he would “be able clearly to prove that Greek 
is derived from the Shanscrit” (322). Halhed stated: “I do not ascertain as a fact, that 
either Greek or Latin are derived from this language; but I give a few reasons wherein 
such a conjecture might be found: and I am sure that it has a better claim to the honour 
of a parent than Phoenician or Hebrew (Letter to G. Costard, quoted in Marshall 1970, 
10). Schlegel, (1977 [1808]), who played a leading role in stimulating interest in San¬ 
skrit, especially in Germany, developed the concept of comparative grammar wherein 
“the Indian language is older, the others younger and derived from it” (429). Vans 
Kennedy (1828) felt the evidence demonstrated that “Sanscrit itself is the primitive lan¬ 
guage from which Greek, Latin, and the mother of the Teutonic dialects were originally 
derived” (196). These ideas were picked up by intellectuals outside the halls of academia: 
Blavatsky (1975), the theosophist, claimed that “Old Sanskrit is the origin of all the less 
ancient Indo-European languages, as well as of the modern European tongues and dia¬ 
lects” (115). 

Although other languages also provided valuable material, the reconstruction of 
the original Indo-European was, in truth, completely dependent on Sanskrit, to which 
linguists invariably turned for ultimate confirmation of any historical linguistic for¬ 
mulation. It seemed logical, at the time, to situate the original homeland in the loca¬ 
tion that spawned what was then considered to be the original or, at least, the oldest, 
language. As Sayce (1883) noted in retrospect, “the old theory rested partly on the 
assumption that man’s primeval birthplace was in the East—and that, consequently, 
the movement of population must have been from east to west—partly on the belief 
that Sanskrit preserved more faithfully than any of its sisters the features of the Aryan 
parent speech” (385). 

In time, however, the linguist F. Bopp (n.d.) stated: “I do not believe that the Greek, 
Latin, and other European languages are to be considered as derived from the Sanskrit. 
... 1 feel rather inclined to consider them altogether as subsequent variations of one 
original tongue, which, however, the Sanskrit has preserved more perfect than its kin¬ 
dred dialects” (3). Once the news of this connection seeped out from the ivory towers, 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

there were clamorous objections raised against the whole linguistic concept of Sanskrit 
even being a cognate language (not to speak of the “original” mother language), as will 
be discussed later, since the corollary was the outrageous proposal that the people of 
Athens and Rome should be considered to have a community of origin with the “niggers” 
of India. (Tire kinship of Europeans with Indians was of course, implied by Jones long 
before.) But Bopp’s sound scholarship eventually prevailed, the “original tongue” eventu¬ 
ally became known as Proto-Indo-European, and Sanskrit was demoted to the rank of a 
daughter language, albeit “the eldest sister of them all” (Muller 1883, 22). 

The term Indo-European was coined in 1816 by the linguist Thomas Young. Rask 
toyed with various names such as European, Sarmatic, and Japhetic. Soon, however, 
zealous German scholars showed preference for the term Indo-German, popularized by 
Julius Klaproth in 1823 (but first used by Conrad Malte-Brun in 1810), on the grounds 
that these two languages encapsulated the entire Indo-European-speaking area—the 
farthest language to the east being Indie, and to the west, Germanic (Celtic had not 
yet been recognized as a distinct language group). This term unsettled the sensitivities 
of French and British scholars, who exerted their influence to reestablish the more 
politically neutral Indo-European. Bopp preferred to follow their example, since “I do 
not see why one should take the Germans as representatives for all the people of our 
continent” (quoted in Olinder 1972, 13). The term Aryan was also used extensively 
during the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century. This is not 
to be confused with Indo-Aryan, which refers exclusively to the Indic-speaking side of 
the family. Nowadays Indo-European is the standard term for the whole language fam¬ 
ily, although some German scholars still prefer Indo-Germanic despite a history of com¬ 
plaints against it. 

As a side note, obviously, there must have been a time prior to any hypothetical 
reconstructions of particular protolanguages and protocultures. Accordingly, Proto-Indo- 
European is generally defined by most linguists as a language that can be reconstructed 
at least dieoretically, at a stage prior to its transformation into distinct languages, and 
which reveals a certain cultural environment at an approximate period in human devel¬ 
opment, in a potentially definable geographic location; linguists acknowledge that this 
location can only be identified for that particular (hypothetical) stage of language and 
culture. While such generalities are generally accepted, we shall see that anything much 
more specific is usually contested (and even these generalities have been challenged). In 
any event, in the opinion of most scholars (in the West at least), India soon lost its 
privileged position as the point of origin of the Indo-European languages. 

A variety of reasons were brought forward to reject the proposal drat India might 
have been the original homeland. In 1842, A. W. von Schlegel, in contrast to his brother 
Frederik, claimed that “it is completely unlikely that the migrations which had peopled 
such a large part of the globe would have begun at its southern extremity and would 
have continually directed themselves from there towards the northeast. On the contrary, 
everything compels us to believe that the colonies set out in diverging directions from a 
central region” (515). He felt that the Caspian Sea area possessed such required central¬ 
ity. Lassen noted in 1867 that from the countries where the large Indo-Germanic family 
resided in ancient times, “India was the most peculiar, . . . and it would be very inexpli¬ 
cable that no traces of these Indian peculiarities should have been preserved by any 
Celtic race in later times, if they had all originally lived in India. . . . Among the names 


Myths of Origin 

of plants and animals which are common to all these nations there is none which is 
native to India” (614). Benfey pointed out that South India was peopled by various 
non-Aryan tribes who could hardly have pushed their way through the superior civiliza¬ 
tion of the Sanskrit-speaking people had the latter been indigenous to the North. These 
tribes, therefore, must have been the original natives of India who were subjugated by 
the invading Aryans (Muir [I860] 1874, 31 1-312). Muir, summarizing the issues in 
1874, fortified all these arguments by arguing that the Sanskrit texts themselves showed 
a geographic progression “of the gradual advance of the Aryas from the north-west of 
India to the east and south” (xx). 

Such arguments were by no means uncontested. In 1841, Mountstuart Elphinstone 
objected that “it is opposed to their foreign origin that neither in the code [of Manu) 
nor, I believe, in the Vedas, nor in any book ... is there any allusion to a prior resi¬ 
dence or to a knowledge of more than the name of any country out of India.” Respond¬ 
ing to some of the arguments that had been brought forward, he argued that “to say 
that [the original language] spread from a central point is a gratuitous assumption, and 
even contrary to language; for emigration and civilization have not spread in a circle.” 
As far as he was concerned, “the question, therefore, is still open. There is no reason 
whatever for thinking that the Hindus ever inhabited any country but their present one, 
and as little for denying that they may have done so before the earliest trace of their 
records or tradition” (97-98). 

But, as time went by, such objections soon became far too out of tune with the aca¬ 
demic consensus, as well as with developing colonial exigencies. Soon after the mid¬ 
nineteenth century, few scholars were still open to considering either India as the home¬ 
land of the Indo-Europeans, or protestations regarding the indigenousness of the 
Indo-Aryans in the subcontinent. According to Chakrabarti (1976), “it is around the 
middle of the nineteenth century that this romantic view of India as sending out roving 
bands of ascetics died out. With the Raj firmly established it was the time to begin to 
visualize the history and cultural process of India as a series of invasions and foreign 
rules” (1967). 

The Aryans and Colonial and Missionary Discourse 

By the end of the nineteenth century, India was no longer referred to at all as a candi¬ 
date for the original homeland, and most scholars had situated themselves somewhere 
within the parameters of Max Muller’s ([188711985) accommodating opinion that “if 
an answer must be given as to the place where our Aryan ancestors dwelt before their 
separation, ... I should still say, as I said forty years ago, ‘Somewhere in Asia,’ and no 
more” (127). 5 A few peripheral intellectuals noted the change with nostalgia, still hop¬ 
ing that there would be a reversal in India’s fortunes as a homeland contender. In 1881, 
Olcott, a Theosophist, in a lecture given to native audiences in various parts of India, 

The theory that Aryavarta was the cradle of European civilization, the Aryans the progeni¬ 
tors of western peoples, and their literature the source and spring of all western religions 
and philosophies, is comparatively a thing of yesterday. Professor Max Muller and a few 
other Sanskritists of our generation have been bringing about this change in western ideas. 

22 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Let us hope that before many years roll by, we may have out the whole truth about Aryan 
civilization, and that your ancestors (and ours) will be honoured according to their deserts. 

. . . the Brahmins have their own chronology and no one has the means of proving that 
their calculations are exaggerated. . . . We Europeans . . . have a right to more than sus- 
pect that India 8,000 years ago sent out a colony of emigrants. (124) 

In sharp contrast, the racial scientists, who will be discussed later, recorded the change 
of affairs with a note of indignant relief: “In our school days most of us were brought 
up to regard Asia as the mother of European people. We were told that an ideal race of 
men swarmed forth from the Himalayan highlands disseminating culture right and left 
as they spread through the barbarous West.” As far as Ripley was concerned, such philo- 
logical ideas represented the dark age of Indo-European studies: “In the days when . . . 
there was no science of physical anthropology [and] prehistoric archaeology was not yet 
... a new science of philology dazzled the intelligent world . . . and its words were law. 
Since 1860 these early inductions have completely broken down in the light of modem 
research” (Ripley 1899, 453). 

Even during the earlier phase of the homeland quest, when India was still a popular 
candidate, many scholars were uncomfortable about moving the Indo-Europeans too 
far from their biblical origins somewhere in die Near East. There were those among the 
British, in particular, whose colonial sensibilities made them reluctant to acknowledge 
any potential cultural indebtedness to the forefathers of the rickshaw pullers of Calcutta, 
and who preferred to hang on to the biblical Adam for longer than their European 
contemporaries. Even well after Adam was no longer in the picture, there was a very 
cool reception in some circles to the “late Prof. Max Muller [who had) blurted forth to 
a not over-grateful world the news that we and our revolted sepoys were of the same 
human family” (Legge 1902, 710). Again, let us not forget the influence of the times: 
many scholars, quite apart from any consideration of India as a possible homeland, 
could not even tolerate the newfound language relationship. Muller (1883) again noted 
the mood of the day: 

They would not have it, they would not believe that there could be any community of 
origin between the people of Athens and Rome, and the so-called Niggers of India. The 
classical scholars scouted the idea, and 1 still remember the time, when 1 was a student 
at Leipzig and begun to study Sanskrit, with what contempt any remarks on Sanskrit or 
comparative grammar were treated by my teachers. . . . No one ever was for a time so 
completely laughed down as Professor Bopp, when he first published his Comparative 
Grammar of Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin and Gothic. All hands were against him. (28) 

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Muller was effusive in his admiration for things 
Indian (although he never subscribed to an Indian homeland). In his course of lectures 
“India: What Can It Teach Us?” (1883), he declared that she was “the country most 
richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow,” indeed, 
“a very paradise on earth,” a place where “the human mind has most fully developed 
some of its choicest gifts, [and] has most deeply pondered on tire greatest problems of 
life” (6). Such lavish praise was far too extreme for those who, as Muller himself noted, 
would be “horror struck at the idea that the humanity they meet with [in India] . . . 
should be able to teach us any lesson” (7). 

Muller’s concerns about the reactions that enthusiastic portrayals of India’s superi¬ 
ority might provoke were not unwarranted. The Indomania of the early British Orientalists 


Myths of Origin 

“did not die of natural causes; it was killed off’ and replaced by an Indophobia initi¬ 
ated by Evangelicalism and Utilitarianism, epitomized by Charles Grant and James Mill, 
respectively (Trautmann 1997, 99). Well before Muller’s glorifications of India, Grant, 
who was very influential in East India Company circles, promoted an aggressive Angli¬ 
cizing and Christianizing relationship with India, which he provoked by completely 
disparaging Indian laws, religion, and character. In contrast to the Orientalists, Grant 
([1790] 1970) stressed the absolute difference, in all respects, between the British and the 
despicable natives of the subcontinent: “In the worst parts of Europe, there are no doubt 
great numbers of men who are sincere, upright, and conscientious. In Bengal, a man of 
real veracity and integrity is a great phenomenon” (21). Most significantly, he made 
absolutely no reference to the kinship of Sanskrit and the European languages except, 
possibly, to note that “the discoveries of science invalidate none of the truths of revela¬ 
tion” (71). Nor did Grant have any regard for enthusiastic depictions of India. Grant 
was quick to criticize scholars who had never even visited India, thereby undermining 
the relevance of their scholarship to the real world: “Europeans who, not having resided 
in Asia, are acquainted only with a few detached features of the Indian character” (24). 

Grant was by no means the first or sole Christian leader to engage in extreme dia¬ 
tribes against Hinduism—these continued throughout the colonial period. In 1840, the 
Reverend Alexander Duff briefly referred to the Aryan commonality by stating that tire 
Hindus “can point to little that indicates their high original.” But for the most part he 
also simply ranted that they “have no will, no liberty, no conscience of their own. They 
are passive instruments, moulded into shape by external influences—mere machines, blindly 
stimulated, at the bidding of another, to pursuits the most unworthy of immortal crea¬ 
tures. In them, reason is in fact laid prostrate. They launch into all the depravities of idol 
worship. They look like the sports and derision of the Prince of darkness” (107). In 1882, 
William Hastie, principal of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’s institu¬ 
tion in Calcutta, in letters he addressed to “educated Hindus” about their religion, consid¬ 
ered that “no pen has yet adequately depicted all the hideousness and grossness of the 
monstrous system.” Hastie was well aware that Hindu idolatry originated from the same 
Aryan stem as that of the Greeks. But the latter had been “recalled from their idolatrous 
errors,” while India remained “the most stupendous fortress and citadel of ancient error 
and idolatry, . . . paralleled only by the spirits of Pandemonium,” a country whose reli¬ 
gion consisted of “senseless mummeries, loathsome impurities and bloody barbarous 
sacrifices.” It has “consecrated and encouraged every conceivable form of licentiousness, 
falsehood, injustice, cruelty, robbery, murder,” and “its sublimest spiritual states have been 
but the reflex of physiological conditions in disease” (24-33). 

Muller, fully aware of the resentment generated by his Indophilic laudations, took 
pains to specify “at once” to the civil servants, officers, missionaries, and merchants 
who were actually in the “bazaars” and “courts of justice” of the real-life India that there 
were “two very different Indias.” Muller was not unaware of the scathing and disparag¬ 
ing opinions that his contemporaries in the colonies held regarding the present state of 
civilization in India. The India he was referring to “was a thousand, two thousand, it 
may be, three thousand years ago” (1883, 7); it was “not on the surface but lay many 
centuries beneath it” (1899, 4). The golden age represented a thing very much in the 
past. Nonetheless, he did not hesitate in insisting that these ancient Indians “repre¬ 
sented ... a collateral branch of that family to which we belong by language, that is, 

24 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

by thought, and [that] their historical records . . . have been preserved to us in such 
perfect. . . documents . . . that we can learn from them lessons we can learn nowhere 
else” (1899, 21). 

Such a claim would have been intolerable for the likes of Mill ([1820J 1975), who 
had previously censured Jones for indulging in “panegyrics,” finding it “unfortunate 
that a mind so . . . devoted to Oriental learning . . . should have adopted the hypoth¬ 
esis of a high state of civilization in the principal countries of Asia” (109). Mill, too, had 
ignored the relationships between the Indian and Western languages, and, like Grant, 
insisted on emphasizing the tremendous difference, as opposed to tire Orientalist sense 
of kinship, between the British and the Indians. These latter, for Mill, were ignorant 
and barbaric and despicable: “No people, how rude and ignorant soever, . . . have ever 
drawn a more gross and disgusting picture of the universe” (157). His was a far cry 
from the venerable status accorded to the ancient Hindus by Muller and the Orientalists. 
The extreme Indophobic discomfort with the connection of Sanskrit with Greek and 
Latin was exemplified by the conviction of the Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart, 
who, without knowing a word of die language, proposed that Sanskrit was not a cog¬ 
nate of Greek, it was Greek. It had been borrowed by the wily Brahmans during 
Alexander’s conquest and adopted to keep their conversations inaccessible to the masses 
(124). Max Muller (1875), commenting on Stewart’s attempt, again reveals the mood of 
the time: 

This . . . shows, better than anything else, how violent a shock was given by the discovery 
of Sanskrit to prejudices most deeply engrained in the mind of every educated man. The 
most absurd arguments found favor for a time, if they could only furnish a loophole by 
which to escape the unpleasant conclusion that Greek and Latin were of the same kith 
and kin as the language of the black inhabitants of India. (164) 

Clearly, the developing pressure to justify the colonial and missionary presence in India 
prompted the denigration of Indian civilization, and the shunning of embarrassing cultural 
and linguistic ties. Trautmann suggests that such considerations also explain why the 
British, despite having primary access to Sanskrit source material, did not pursue the 
study of comparative philology. This was to become a predominantly German domain. 

The Indo-European language connection, however, was not about to disappear, and 
Trautmann masterfully traces the emergence of race science as the resolution of inescap¬ 
able philological reality with the colonial need for cultural superiority over the natives 
of India. It should be noted that up until the middle of the twentieth century, the term 
race was used to designate what we would today call an ethnic group (rather than refer¬ 
ring to the divisions of Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid, and so on, as per present usage). 
During the nineteenth century, race and nation were more or less interchangeable terms, 
but drifted apart in the course of the century as race became more biologized, and na¬ 
tion politicized. One of the catalysts for the development of race science was that some 
of the Orientalists, like Muller, in contrast to the Utilitarians, not only recognized and 
appreciated European linguistic and cultural brotherhood with the Hindu Aryans but 
also articulated these bonds in terms of racial equality: 

No authority could have been strong enough to persuade the Grecian army that their 
gods and their hero-ancestors were the same as those of king Porus, or to convince the 
English soldier that the same blood was running in his veins as in the veins of the dark Bengalese. 


Myths of Origin 

And yet there is not an English jury now-a-days, which, after examining the hoary docu¬ 
ments of language, would reject the claim of a common descent and a legitimate relation¬ 
ship between Hindu, Greek and Teuton. We challenge the seeming stranger, and whether 
he answer with the lips of a Greek, a German, or an Indian, we recognize him as one of 
ourselves. Though the . . . physiologist may doubt, ... all must yield before the facts 
furnished by language. (Muller 1854a, 29-30; my italics) 

The recognition of such racial kinship was repugnant to the ethnologists, who re¬ 
acted by jettisoning the importance of language and scorning tire Orientalist philolo¬ 
gists. For them, fairness of skin paralleled highness of civilization, and the Indians were 
a beggarly lot who could not possibly be allowed to claim a common racial pedigree, 
not to speak of being recognized as “one of’ the British. Isaac Taylor ([1892] 1988) 
scathingly exemplifies the antiphilological reaction of the race scientists: “It cannot be 
insisted upon too strongly that identity of speech does not imply identity of race, any 
more than diversity of speech implies diversity of race” (5-6). Anthropologists such as 
himself had scant regard for the Orientalists: “Max Muller, owing to the charm of his 
style, his unrivaled power of popular exposition, and to his high authority as a Sanskrit 
scholar, has done more than any other writer to popularise this erroneous notion.” Despite 
the racist overtones, there was actually a good measure of truth to some of these criti¬ 
cisms: “Instead of speaking only of a primitive Aryan language, he speaks of an ‘Aryan 
race’ and ‘Aryan family.’ . . . more mischievous words have seldom been uttered by a 
great scholar” (3-4). As for Muller’s English jury, “the evidence derived from the docu¬ 
ments of language . . . which might be put before an English jury as to a ‘common 
descent’ and a ‘legitimate relationship’ between the negro and the Yankee, would be 
more intelligible to the twelve English tradesmen in the box than the obscure evidence 
which applies to the case of the Teuton and the Hindu” (6). Taylor attempted to point 
out that just as the African American and the European American spoke the same lan¬ 
guage but were not considered members of the same race, so there were no grounds to 
consider the Hindu and the European as being the same race on the basis of the Indo- 
European language connection. 

Race science was precipitated by the discovery, by the Madras school of Orientalists, 
that the South Indian languages were not derivable from Sanskrit. This fact was com¬ 
bined with certain forced readings of the Vedic texts (which will be discussed in chapter 
3) to produce images of the Aryans as white-skinned and dolichocephalic, in contrast to 
the dark-skinned, snub-nosed dasas. Despite Taylor’s comments, the one-language-one- 
race model inherited from Babel was retained—at least for the white Aryans—and India 
was reconstructed as the product of two original races: a fair invading race speaking an 
Aryan tongue, and a dark- skinned aboriginal one speaking Dravidian. 

For our purposes, both Orientalist philologers and ethnologists agreed on one thing: 
Trautmann’s “big bang” of Indian civilization consisted of the impact of Aryan invad¬ 
ers with the indigenes of India. What the racial theorists succeeded in doing, in their 
opposition to the philologists, was to uncouple the common language bond from the 
need to identify with the Hindus on any other level whatsoever. The Europeans, as a 
race, were now not required to acknowledge any common racial or even cultural bond 
with the Hindus: “To speak of‘our Indian bretheren’ is as absurd and false as to claim 
relationship with the Negroes of the United States because drey now use an Aryan lan¬ 
guage” (Sayce 1883, 385). Even the common Indo-European language was presented as 

26 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

being a gift to India from the West, just as it had been to the “negroes of the United 
States,” The racial theorists paved the way for the postulate that the Aryans were an 
autonomous white race who brought civilization and the Sanskrit language to the differ¬ 
ent races of India—a development Trautmann holds as pivotal to the political construc¬ 
tion of Aryan identity developing in Germany. The biblical model of the identity of 
language and race still held good for the original white Aryans, but not for the Hindus. 
These invading Aryans taught the racially and linguistically distinct natives the Indo- 
European language and the arts of civilization. But in so doing, they, in time, lost their 
superior status and became racially subsumed by the native population. 

There were those in the colonial power who were much more comfortable with these 
new developments. The British presence in the subcontinent could now be cast as a 
rerun several millennia later of a similar script, but a script that hoped to have a differ¬ 
ent ending. The British could now present themselves as a second wave of Aryans, again 
bringing a superior language and civilization to the racial descendants of the same na¬ 
tives their forefathers had attempted to elevate so many centuries earlier. Some, drawing 
on the findings of racial science, believed that a lesson was to be learned from the ear¬ 
lier wave of Aryans who had allowed themselves to become degenerate due to their new 
environment. Bolstered with the new racial theories, such scholars could now exoner¬ 
ate themselves for, and indeed insist on, the need for remaining aloof and superior to 
their subjects. Thus in Annals of Rural Bengal (1897), W. W. Hunter describes the re¬ 
tardation of Aryan India, which had become “effeminated by long sloth” because of 
miscegenation, “but which could again be regenerated by British Rule” (193). 6 On the 
Continent, Gobineau saw India as a warning to Europe of the horrors resulting from 
the bastardization of Aryan culture. The trajectory that Aryanism took toward Nazism 
in Germany is beyond the scope of the present work, but it has been amply traced in 
numerous works, among which Poliakov (1971) is especially noteworthy. 

The protestations of the race theoreticians notwithstanding, the equation of language 
with race remained entrenched. It certainly did not prevent some British representa¬ 
tives from exploiting this Aryan commonality in a variety of ways. Henry Sumner Maine 
made no bones about the fact “that the government of India by the English has been 
rendered appreciably easier by the discoveries which have brought home to the edu¬ 
cated of both races the common Aryan parentage of Englishman and Hindoo” (18-19). 
The headmaster of Marlborough wrote in 1870 that “in coming to Hindostan with our 
advanced civilization, we were returning home with splendid gifts, to visit a member of 
one common family” (quoted in Maw 1950, 14-15). A few years earlier, one ]. Wilson 
insisted that “what has taken place since the commencement of the British Govern¬ 
ment in India is only a reunion ... of the members of the same great family.” (14-15). 
Muller himself (1847) had earlier expressed that “it is curious to see how the descen¬ 
dants of the same race, to which the first conquerors and masters of India belonged, 
return ... to accomplish the glorious work of civilization, which had been left unfin¬ 
ished by their Arian bretheren” (349). 

This reunion, of course, was hardly on equal terms; as Maw (1990) notes, such scholars 
“refused to follow the notion to its logical conclusion: that consanguinity entitled con¬ 
temporary India to a moral parity with Great Britain, and ultimately, to national inde¬ 
pendence” (36). Far from it. As H. S. Newman (n.d.) was quick to point out: “Once in 


Myths of Origin 

the end of aeons they meet, and the Aryan of the west rules the Aryan of the east” 
(110). Farrer (1870), referring to the “common ancestors from whose loins we both 
alike are sprung,” compared the reunion of offspring to that of Esau and Jacob. Accord¬ 
ing to this association, “from the womb it had been prophesied respecting them that 
‘the elder should serve the younger”’ (50; italics in original). Havell (1918) took it upon 
himself to speak on behalf of the Indians, who, in his perception, accepted British rule 
because “they recognize that the present rulers of India ... are generally animated by 
that same love of justice and fair play, the same high principles of conduct and respect 
for humanitarian laws which guided the ancient Aryan statesmen and law givers in their 
relations with the Indian masses” (vi). Clearly, the Aryan connection could turn out to 
be a politically shrewd card to play because “in thus honouring our Aryan forerunners 
in India we shall both honour ourselves and make the most direct and effective appeal 
to Indian loyalty” (ix). 

The Aryan connection proved useful on a variety of occasions and in a variety of 
sometimes conflicting ways. Devendraswarup a historian of the colonial period (1993, 
36) argues that after the British were shaken by the Great Revolt of 1857, certain indi¬ 
viduals suddenly found reason to stress their common Aryan bond with the Brahmanas 
where others had previously shunned it. Since the Brahmanas were preponderant in 
the Bengal Native Infantry, which had taken part in the revolt, there were those among 
the British who conveniently began to propagate discourses of Aryan kinship in the 
hope of cultivating a sense of identification and allegiance with them (36). Chakrabarti 
(1997, 127) notes that the same Risley quoted previously who had voiced such relief 
that the new science of racial anthropology exempted the need for Europeans to affiliate 
themselves with the Hindu side of the family, did not hesitate in his 1881 Bengal sur¬ 
vey on the races, religions and languages of India, to allot common Aryan descent lib¬ 
erally to the Indian groups predominant in the British army such as the Rajputs, Jats, 
and Brahmins. The Aryan connection was simply manipulated at will. 

Such Aryan commonalty was not only adapted to suit colonial exigencies. Maw (1990) 
has thoroughly outlined how certain Christian evangelists also found advantages in dis¬ 
courses of Aryan kinship. As far as G. Smith was concerned, “the English-speaking Ary¬ 
ans had been providentially trained to become the rulers of India and evangelizers of India” 
since “the youngest civilization in the world was to instruct and correct the oldest” (quoted 
in Maw 1950, 35). He noted that “it is not the least of the claims of India on England 
that our language is theirs, our civilisation theirs, our aspirations theirs, drat in a very 
true and special sense they are our brothers” (35). Samuel Laing held that the “two races 
so long separated meet once more. . . . the younger brother has become the stronger, 
and takes his place as the head and protector of the family. ... we are here ... on a 
sacred mission, to stretch out the right hand of aid to our weaker brother, who once far 
outstripped us, but has now fallen behind in the race” (quoted in Maw 1 950, 37). 

Along these same lines, a general history' of the subcontinent, written by W. C. Pearce 
in 1876, compared the ancient pre-Christian Aryan invasion of the subcontinent to the 
modern Christian Aryan one. In his view, the ancient Aryans had descended from the 
highlands of Central Asia, bringing with them their language, civilization, and religion, 
which far surpassed those of the natives: “IThe Aryan] religion was, in its poetic fan¬ 
cies, as far exalted above [the native’s] crude systems of worship as the sublime teach- 

28 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

ings of Christianity soar above the doctrines of the code of Menu [sic]” (37). Hastie 
(1882) appealed to the “twin branches on the same original Aryan stem”—in this case 
the ancient Greek and modern Indie cultures—in order to suggest that the Church could 
extinguish the “tenacious survival of the old Aryan world” in modern India just as Paul 
had extinguished “the brighter and fairer Hellenism” in the ancient West (25-26). 

In contrast to all this, Devendraswarup, (1993), touches on very different Christian 
appropriations of the work of the philologists and the discourse of Aryanism: “It seems 
that missionary scholars in India had already perceived the potential of the science of 
comparative philology in uprooting the hold of the Brahmins” (32). Unlike some of the 
discourses noted earlier, other missionaries found it preferable to target the non-Aryan 
identity of segments of the Indian populace rather than play up the Aryan commonalty. 
The missionaries were having little or no success in converting the Brahmans and up¬ 
per classes. Devendraswarup finds the scholarly work of missionary intellectuals such 
as the Reverend John James Muir and the Reverend John Stevenson readily presenting 
the Brahmanas as foreigners who had foisted their Vedic language and texts onto the 
aboriginals of India. The idea in this case was to create a sense of alienation from 
Brahmanical religion among the lower castes, thereby preparing them for exposure and 
conversion to Christianity. Thus Wilson, in a letter to his parents, noted that “the Aryan 
tribes in conquering India, urged by the Brahmanas, made war against the Turanian 
demon worship. ... It is among the Turanian races,. . . which have no organized priest¬ 
hood and bewitching literature, that the converts to Christianity are most numerous" 
(quoted in Devendraswarup 1993, 35). The Aryan invasion theory proved to be adapt¬ 
able to a curious mismash of contradictory (but not necessarily competing) interests. 

Like some of their administratorial counterparts, still other evangelicals also felt the 
need to be very clear about the distinction between the eastern and western branches of 
the Aryan family. In 1910, the missionary Slater was quite specific that Christianity had 
transcended its Aryan matrix, developing a higher spiritual expression as a result of 
influences from the Semitic encounter. India, in contrast, had decayed and remained 
“sunk in the grossest superstition.” Slater could not countenace attempts to couple this 
sorry state of affairs with western religiosity under a common rubric of Aryan spiritual¬ 
ity. (Maw 1950, 63). There was no shortage of voices who rejected an Aryanism that 
bonded British rulers with their ungrateful subjects (Day 1994, 19). 

No one knew what to do about the corollaries of comparative philology. Depending 
on their agendas and strategies, British individuals glorified, stressed, minimized, 
shunned, or otherwise negotiated in some form or fashion with the Aryan connection. 
Scholars went backward and forward, attempting to balance colonial and missionary 
exigencies with the academic opinions of the day. For our purposes, whereas India had 
been viewed as the homeland of the Aryans and the cradle of civilization at the begin¬ 
ning of the nineteenth century, by that century’s end, in the opinion of people like 
Enrico de Michaelis, it was considered its grave. It seems tempting to suggest that the 
concern of many British colonialists during this period was not so much where the 
Aryans had come from (there was, after all, no question that England could have been 
the homeland), provided they had not come from India, and provided the British did 
not need to acknowledge any embarrassing kinship with their Indian subjects. Despite 
having primary access to the Sanskrit source material upon which the rest of Europe 
was dependent, it was Germany, and to some extent France, but not Britain, that came 

M^tfis of Origin 29 

to dominate the field of historical linguistics. Sayce was to lament as late as the end of 
the nineteenth century that “little is known about it [comparative philology] in England, 
for English scholars have but recently awakened to the value and meaning of the work 
done by Bopp and Schleicher and Curtius, and have not yet learned that this already 
belongs to a past stage in the history of linguistic science” (1883, 385). Although En¬ 
gland did eventually become a principal center of Sanskrit study for all of Europe (and 
had been a pioneer in the early days with people like Jones, Maesden, Leyden, and 
Ellis), the British became wary of this new comparative philology. Colonial interests 
seem to have superseded this particular pursuit of knowledge. 

The dilemma facing the rulers was how to avoid according cultural equality, not to 
speak of indebtedness, to the Hindu subjects they intended to govern. The Germans 
did not have the same colonial exigencies; on the contrary, philology offered certain 
German scholars an opportunity to compensate for their poor showing on the colonial 
scene. The British, as expert politicians, were able to turn previously awkward philo¬ 
logical realities to their political advantage, but it would be well worth exploring the 
extent to which they remained wary, in the nascent stages of lndological studies, of the 
possibly embarrassing repercussions that might be inherent in exploring the field of 
philology. Doubtless other factors were also involved, but philology was nonetheless 
very much a German prerogative. 7 There were those among the British who were re¬ 
lieved to hand the Germans the philological baton of a white Sanskrit-speaking race 
that had come into India from somewhere else—anywhere else. And there were those 
among the Germans who were happy to take it and run. 

Before turning to German Aryanism, it would be unfair to conclude this section 
without noting that not all British intellectuals can be generically categorized as arro¬ 
gant elitists. While it is important to highlight the more extreme versions of Aryan dis¬ 
course in order to best understand Indian reactions and responses, there were also voices 
of moderation and soberness. One cannot tar and feather all nineteenth-century schol¬ 
ars as racists and bigots. In 1870, Farrer, albeit still convinced of the modern West’s 
advancement in civilization, was at least shamed by the excesses of some of his contem¬ 
poraries in their reactions to the Aryan connection: 

Oh! if, instead of calling them and treating them as “niggers”; if, instead of absorbing 
with such fatal facility the preposterous notion that they were with few exceptions, an 
abject nation of cringing liars, to be despised and kicked, ... if our missionaries had 
been tempered sometimes with their religious fanaticism of hatred against idolatry with a 
deeper historical knowledge of the religions of the world, . . . then, indeed, the Hindoos 
no less than ourselves would have recognized the bond of unity between us because of 
the common ancestors from whose loins we both alike are sprung. (48) 

Other voices, too, had not hesitated to express disgust at their compatriots: 

Is it not something, also, that you all—our Arian friends—should be told, intensely as it 
may disgust you, that this Arian Bengali—whom, uncivilly and un-ethnologically, you have 
been in the habit of calling a “Nigger,”—is, stubbornly as you may kick against the con¬ 
viction, your Elder Brother:—one who, much as you may glory in being descended from 
certain pig-herding Thegns or piratical Norse Vikings, is, in very truth . . . the represen¬ 
tative of the pure Arian stock, of which you are a mere offshoot. . . whom it is your duty 
to treat with mercy, justice, and forbearance;—as you will have to answer for your dealing 
with him to the God and Father of us all. (Blackwell 1856, 548) 

30 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

German Aryanism 

Devendraswarup (1993) traces the beginning of Anglo-Germanic collaboration on in¬ 
tellectual and political planes to the arrival in England of the German scholar Chevalier 
Bunsen as ambassador of Prussia in 1841 • The two countries shared an animosity to¬ 
ward France, which “provided an emotional bond between the rising German nation¬ 
alism and British imperialism” (32). Bunsen, who was instrumental in bringing Max 
Muller to England, made a presentation to the British Association for the Advance¬ 
ment of Science, promoting the usefulness and importance of the sciences of philology 
and ethnology. The Philological Society was established in Britain the very next year, 
and the Ethnological Society the year after that. If the British needed prompting from 
the Continent, the Germans, in contrast, were very keen to pioneer the new science of 
philology. By 1906, the University of Strasbourg could boast a library holding some six 
thousand volumes on the Aryans, general ethnology, and related disciplines (Maw 1990, 
113). Figueira (1994), in her analysis of Indian thought and the formation of Aryan 
ideology, identifies two connected reasons for the initial interest in Vedic scholarship 
in Germany: the search for the oldest forms of religion and language, and the inquiry 
into the origin and past of the German people through information drawn from an¬ 
cient Sanskrit sources. These offered a cultural means to restore the ancient greatness of 
the Germanic tradition (145-146). 

There were very good reasons that some Germans, in particular, took to the rapidly 
developing field of philology with such enthusiasm and became the principal promot¬ 
ers of what Raymond Schwab (1984) has called “the Oriental Renaissance.” The south¬ 
ern Europeans, all things considered, could point to the grandeur of their ancient Greek 
and Latin heritage, and the British could afford to overlook their own potentially em¬ 
barrassing pedigree problems and bask in the superiority of their colonial and techno¬ 
logical advances in the modern, real world. It was German national pride that was most 
in need of some dramatic infusion from the past. Schwab outlines how, just as the ar¬ 
rival of Greek manuscripts in Europe after the fall of Constantinople had triggered the 
first Renaissance in the fifteenth century, the arrival of Sanskrit texts from India in the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced a “second Renaissance,” with Germans 
scholars determined to capitalize on the unique opportunity. After all, if the Germans 
could somehow appropriate the mantle of the original Indo-Europeans (which they soon 
began to call Indo-Germans), they could then lay claim to being the progenitors of all 
subsequent derivative cultures, be they Greek, Latin, or colonial. 

Much of Europe, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, was intensely preoc¬ 
cupied with racial origins. England, for example, was beset with national identification 
problems due to its mixed pedigree of Norman, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic. Likewise, French 
racial theorists had to decide whether a Frankish, Latin, or Gaelic association furthered 
their interests, and their affiliation varied according to time and place. In contrast to 
such ethnic hybridity, certain members of the German intelligentsia believed they could 
lay significant claim to an exclusively indigenous ancestry—claims, they argued, that were 
verified by passages in Latin sources as early as Tacitus’s Germania (2.1, 4.1), which 
suggested that they were an unmixed and autochthonous people. While some British 
historians viewed the multiple invasions and ethnic intermixture that produced British 
culture as promoting a “hybrid vigour” that accounted for British preeminence in world 


Myths of Origin 

affairs, German historians attributed their greatness to the alleged lack of physical or 
cultural influences from the inferior people that surrounded them (Trigger 1981, 145). 
This latter belief was soon to reappear in various scholarly guises during a phase of 
Indo-Germanic studies. 

Not only did such individuals believe they were relieved of having to defer to exter¬ 
nal invaders for their sources of culture or potency, they could actually lay claims to 
being the exporters of the most powerful dynasties in Europe: the Swabians of Spain, 
Anglo-Saxons of England, Lombards of Italy, Franks of France, and Bavarians of Aus¬ 
tria were all Germanic tribes. With such credentials, it was a short step for scholars like 
Leibniz to claim unabashedly as early as 1690 that “it is certain at any rate that most 
inquiries into European origins, customs and antiquities have to do with the Teutonic 
language and antiquities” (Leibniz [1690J 1981, 286). Not only this, but since writers of 
this period made no distinction between language and race, the Teutonic language, un¬ 
adulterated by the alien influences that pervaded the other languages of Europe, was, if 
not the primeval language of mankind, 8 nonetheless “more natural, . . . more Adamic” 
than even Hebrew itself (281). The racial zealousness prominent among this group of 
scholars was to have dramatic repercussions in all areas of Indo-European smdies, par¬ 
ticularly in linguishes and anthropology. The groundwork for postulating a Germanic 
homeland for the Indo-Europeans had been laid well before the European discovery of 

The myth of indigenous barbarian origins developed in Middle Europe, especially in 
Germany, which regarded barbarian Europe as the original source of uncorrupted free¬ 
dom, maintaining individualism and freedom, as opposed to the despotism of Classi¬ 
cal empires. With the aid of historical linguistics . . . and archaeology ... a national- 
historical framework was constructed to legitimate the expanding German nation. Direct 
ethnic links were postulated between the prehistoric past and the present on the basis 
of ethnic explanations of archaeological cultures. ... It later served as a platform for 
racist constructions of a Germanic “Urvolk” to serve the Nazi regime. ... As a conse¬ 
quence, . . . emphasis on the myth of European oriental origins was toned down. 
(Kristiansen 1996, 141) 

An oriental origin for the Indo-Europeans was no more compatible with German agen¬ 
das and aspirations than with British ones. 

Before a Germanic homeland could be postulated, however, the consensus regard¬ 
ing an Asian homeland had to be challenged. Although India had been eliminated as 
a potential homeland by the second half of the nineteenth century, scholars still almost 
unanimously limited their Aryan debates to other parts of Asia, particularly favoring 
Bactria, in present-day Afghanistan, or adjacent areas. Indeed, right up until the end of 
tire nineteenth century (by which time other homeland contenders were gaining ground), 
scholars such as Monier Williams (1891) still held that “it is probable that one of the 
earliest homes (if not the first seat) of the members of the great Aryan family was in the 
high land surrounding the sources of the Oxus, to the north of the point connecting 
the Hindu Kush with the Himalayas . . . the Pamir Plateau” (4). The first well-known 
step toward challenging an Asian homeland in favor of a European one is generally 
credited to an Englishman, the ethnologist Robert G. Latham, in 1862. 9 

For Latham (1862), “when philologues make the Veda 3000 years old, and deduce 
the Latin and its congeners from Asia, they are wrong to, at least, a thousand miles in 

32 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

space, and as many years in time” (620). Latham’s rationale, which survives to the present 
day, was that “if historical evidence be wanting, the a priori presumptions must be con¬ 
sidered. . . . the presumptions are in favour of the smaller class having been deduced 
from the larger rather than vice versa ” (611). As a natural scientist, he illustrated this 
thesis by comparing language groups to distinct species of reptiles: 

Where we have two branches of the same division of speech separated from each other, one of 
which is the larger in area and the more diversified by varieties, and the other smaller and 
comparatively homogeneous, the presumption is in favour of the latter being derived from the 
former, rather than the former from the latter. To deduce the Indo-Europeans of Europe 
from the Indo-Europeans of Asia, in ethnology, is like deriving the reptiles of Great Brit¬ 
ain from those of Ireland in herpetology. (Latham 1851, cxlii; italics in original) 

Whatever the value of such reasoning, which will be discussed in chapter 8, Latham 
offered a new concept to his fellow scholars—a European homeland for the Aryans. 

It was a very small step from zoology and ethnology to physical anthropology, which 
was soon pressed into service to identify these original Indo-Europeans in Europe. In 
1878, the German philologist L. Geiger was the first to suggest that the Indo-Europeans 
were blond, blue-eyed people, and that these traits had become diluted and darkened in 
those places where there had been a foreign admixture of genes: “The Indo-Germanic 
people remain unadulterated wherever pure blonde traits are best preserved." His logic, 
which he bolstered by the same quotes from Tacitus, was that the then available data 
showed no evidence of a pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum in north Europe, unlike 
other European countries. 10 By the same rationale that India had been eliminated, such 
substrata in other areas of Europe suggested that the Indo-Europeans were not native to 
these areas but intruders who imposed themselves on preexisting peoples. Continuing 
this line of argument, the inhabitants of northern Europe, in contrast to their neigh¬ 
bors, must have been an indigenous Indo-European race. Since there was no indication 
that the Aryans had entered this area from anywhere else, the residents there must have 
been the pure descendants of the original Aryans. Their physical traits, by extension, 
since they had not been mixed with elements from any other people, must be those of 
the original Aryans. The original Indo-Europeans, then, were blond, fair, and blue-eyed. 

Dubious interpretations of certain passages in the Vedic texts, which will be exam¬ 
ined in the next chapters, were then introduced to produce readings of fair, invading 
Aryans clashing with snub-nosed indigenous dasas. Armed with such data, another 
German, Theodor Poesche (1878), attempted to further the blond cause with an even 
more simplistic logic in the same year. He accepted without question that the original 
Aryans spoke Indo-European and were blond. Greeks, Italians, and French had the 
correct linguistic credentials but were disqualified due to being dark, while some of the 
Scandinavians had the right physical qualities but spoke the wrong language (41). The 
Germans won by default. 

Many in the German nation soon became captivated by the implications of such 
possibilities. In 1886, the anatomist and craniologist Rudolf Virchow published a lengthy 
report, “The Skin, Hair, and Eye Color of German Schoolchildren” (275-477), based 
on a massive investigation involving fifteen million schoolchildren. Questionnaires were 
sent out to schools in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium to solicit informa¬ 
tion on the hair and eye color of the students. The statistics showed drat a predomi- 


M^tfis of Origin 

nance of fair traits occurred in northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries. As 
far as German chauvinists were concerned, here was hard scientific proof correlating 
the Germans with the pure blond Aryans. 

This discussion is circumscribed by focusing primarily on Aryan discourse among 
the British and the Germans, since, historically, these have exerted the most influence 
on the responses from South Asia, and fuller treatments of the concept of the Aryan 
race in Europe during the nineteenth century has been treated in detail elsewhere (Poliakov 
1971; Day 1994). But I should at least note in passing that “France has been called ‘the 
homeland of racial’ theory” (Day 1994, 1 5). Indeed, Gobineau, whose belief in the blue¬ 
eyed, blond Aryan did not go down at all well with his contemporaries in his native 
France, was soon to have societies named after him spring up all over Germany. In any 
event, as scholars from other European countries began to voice their objections to 
this reconstructed, blond, Germanic Aryan superman, elements in European anthro¬ 
pology departments allowed their scholarship to degenerate into a puerile, but fatal, 
we’re-more-Aryan-than-you level of discourse. Isaac Taylor ([1892] 1988), while on 
the one hand rejoicing that “the whilom tyranny of the Sanskritists is happily overpast” 
(332) and that, consequently, philology was no longer the determining method in 
Aryan studies, could nonetheless hardly avoid referring to the madness his own dis¬ 
cipline had unleashed: 

The question has been debated with needless acrimony. German scholars . . . have con¬ 
tended that the physical type of the primitive Aryans was that of die North Germans—a 
tall, fair, blue-eyed dolicocephalic race. French writers, on the other hand, have main¬ 
tained that the primitive Aryans were brachycephalic, and that the true Aryan type is 
represented by the Gauls. The Germans claim the primitive Aryans as typical Germans 
who Aryanised the French, while the French claim them as typical Frenchmen who 
Aryanised the Germans. Both parties maintain that their own ancestors were the pure 
noble race of Aryan conquerors, and that their hereditary foes belonged to a conquered 
and enslaved race of aboriginal savages, who received the germs of civilisation from their 
hereditary superiors. Each party accuses the other of subordinating the results of science 
to Chauvinistic sentiment. (226-227) 

In 1887, Max Muller ([1887] 1985) joined in the remonstrations against the racial frenzy 
enveloping Europe and “declared again and again that if I say Aryas, I mean neither 
blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull. . . . How many misunderstandings and how many 
controversies are due to what is deduced by arguing from language to blood-relation¬ 
ship or from blood-relationship to language" (120). Muller may have well felt the need 
to stress that “an ethnologist who speaks of an Aryan race, Aryan eyes and hair, and 
Aryan blood is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolicocephalic dictionary 
or a brachycephalic grammar”; after all, it was he who had been a principal cause in 
such misconceptions through his earlier remarks on the common blood that the “En¬ 
glish soldier” shared with the “dark Bengali” (1854a, 29-30). Needless to say, his re¬ 
traction went largely unnoticed, and the history books recorded the earlier Max Muller 
who, for a quarter of a century, had contributed to the idea of a common racial Aryan 
ancestry based on a common Aryan tongue. One has only to pick up any book on the 
subject from the period to see how effortlessly discourses of language slid into discourses 
of race from one sentence to the next: “From a common Proto-Aryan speech we infer 
also a common Proto-Aryan homeland. . . . Where was this primitive home from which 

34 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

the Aryan blood went out in so many streams over the earth?” (Widney 1907, 10; my 

Physical anthropology was not the only science invoked to reject the idea of an Asian 
homeland. Taylor’s “tyrannical Sanskritists” inspired by the comparative grammars of 
pioneering linguists such as Schlegel, Bopp, Grimm, Schleicher, Grassman, Verncr, 
Brugmann, and Saussure, developed comparative philology, which, in turn, led to lin¬ 
guistic paleontology. This methodology was first utilized in a serious way by Adolphe 
Pictet in 1859 as one “which utilizes words to culminate in things and ideas” (19). Lin¬ 
guistic paleontology, which will be discussed in chapter 6, in its basic form, proposes 
that cognate words denoting items of material or social culture found in all branches of 
a language family, such as ‘wheel’ or ‘horse’, can be used as linguistic evidence to prove 
that such items existed in the protoculture of that family. Pictet himself believed his 
method pointed to an original homeland in Bactria, present-day Afghanistan. His con¬ 
temporaries, however, quickly co-opted the new discipline to support the German home¬ 
land. One of the items that was to be the most amenable in this regard was the com¬ 
mon beech. Since the beech was well represented in the European side of the family, it 
was assumed to have existed in the protolanguage before the various linguistic branches 
separated. 12 Since this protolanguage necessitated a protohomeland, scholars such as 
Geiger then used this information to draw up maps of the geographic boundaries within 
which the beech tree grows—specifically, German-centered Europe—and the Aryan home¬ 
land was set within this area. 

Although linguistics inaugurated the field of Indo-European studies, it did not take 
long for archaeology to be summoned to the witness stand to help solve the mystery of 
origins (or, in many cases, to provide further “proof’ of predetermined concepts of the 
homeland). From abstract philological deductions, the Indo-Europeans had become reified 
into a very specific anthropological type living in a very identifiable homeland that ar¬ 
chaeology, it was hoped, would now physically materialize through the archaeological 
record. In 1883, Karl Penka was one of the first scholars to use this method in conjunc¬ 
tion with linguistics to claim that “the archaeological evidence argues convincingly for a 
Scandinavian homeland” based on the Mesolithic culture discovered there (68). More 
influential, however, was Gustav Kossina’s defense of a German homeland, in 1902, 
which was based on linking the movement of peoples with ceramic changes in the ar¬ 
chaeological record. Kossina believed the spread of the Corded Ware and Linear Ware 
archaeological culmres was indicative of Aryan dispersals. The assumptions upon which 
his medrodology was based can be summed up as follows: (1) distinctive artifact types 
can be equated with “cultures”; (2) the distribution of such types represents “cultural 
provinces”; (3) such provinces can be equated with tribal or ethnic groups; and (4) these 
ethnic groups can be identified with historical peoples (provided there has been no major 
discontinuity in the archaeological record). Kossina’s assumptions were formative to 
Childes’s later work and underpin, to some extent, Gimbutas’s well-known theories. 

Once wedded, linguistics and archaeology have not proven to be very comfortable 
partners, since their relationship has been marred by acute handicaps in communication. 
Archaeology, in the absence of datable inscriptions that are readable, can give no indi¬ 
cation of the linguistic identity of die members of a particular material culture. Linguis¬ 
tics, in turn, albeit providing some tantalizing glimpses of material culture through lin¬ 
guistic paleontology, cannot be easily connected to one specific archaeological entity to 


Myths of Origin 

the exclusion of others. Moreover, even when an archaeological culture has been con- 
vincingly argued to be Indo-European, it has never been accepted uncontroversially as 
being the original protoculture. 

Archaeology and linguistics have not been the only disciplines involved in the home¬ 
land quest, and neither, of course, have the Germans been die sole contributors. The 
variety of methods used, and the massive differences of opinion expressed over the years, 
are truly dizzying. Mallory (1973) has provided an excellent synopsis of some of the 
principal homeland hypotheses that have surfaced over the last century and a half. Before 
turning to the Indian responses to all of this, it would be useful to glance at a summary 
of Mallory’s (1973) outline of some of the other more prominent homeland theories 
(prior to the 1970s) that have been articulated by Western scholars. This will give a 
clearer picture of the confusion that Indian scholars have had to confront over the de¬ 
cades and will further help set the stage for their responses. 

Two Centuries of Homeland Theories 

After the discovery of Sanskrit and the birth of comparative philology, many scholars of 
the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, as noted previously, maintained 
drat India was the original homeland. Rask, however, preferred Asia Minor. Alexander 
Murray held Asia to be original, as did Renan, on the basis of the Indo-Iranian literary 
material in conjunction with the Bible. John Baldwin opted for Bactria solely on the 
basis of the Iranian material. Hehn reconstructed an Indo-European Stone Age pastoralist 
and also situated him in Asia, in contradistinction to Benfey, who felt geological evi¬ 
dence favored Europe as the most ancient abode. Pike, die forerunner of the astronomi¬ 
cal approach that will be discussed in chapter 9, believed the Rgveda preserved a record 
of a vernal equinox that occurred in 5000 b.c.e. in Sogdiana. 

Penka elaborated on Poesche’s racial theories, mentioned previously, and bolstered them 
with linguistic and archaeological arguments to propose Scandinavia. Charles Morris, also 
using racial arguments, envisioned a Proto-Indo-European Mongoloid pastoralist from the 
steppe. Isaac Taylor was the first to use the evidence of bodi archaeology and loanwords, 
which he believed was indicative of Indo-European origins in Finland. D’Arbois de 
Jubainville felt cognate Indo-European words such as house and door indicated a sedentary 
life (as opposed to the usually depicted Indo-European pastoral-nomadic one) that flour¬ 
ished near the Oxus River adjacent to the great Asian civilizations. The anthropologist 
Brinton felt the Indo-European languages were the result of the coalescence of a variety of 
languages situated in western Europe, T. H. Huxley considered the Indo-European speak¬ 
ers to be blond dolicocephalics living between the North Sea and the Ural Mountains, 
while Otto Schrader, rejecting the racial input, situated the homeland in south Russia 
which could accommodate both agriculture and pastoralism. Schmidt foreshadowed some 
recent scholars by suggesting that the Indo-Europeans must have been adjacent to Babylon 
based on a shared duodecimal numbering system. This idea was opposed by Hirt, who 
preferred the Baltic area on die basis of linguistic paleontology. 

Ripley’s work, at the turn of the twentieth century, characterized the increasing use 
and promotion of archaeological evidence in homeland proposals; he was followed by 
Paape, who typified the rising vigor of the German Urheimat (original homeland) school. 

36 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Whitney disagreed with the latter, arguing that Germany was too cold and forested, 
preferring south Russia. This was also the area of choice for Sigmund Feist on the grounds 
of linguistic paleontology. Harold Bender differed somewhat and considered Lithuania 
more suitable, since Lithuanian was the most conservative Indo-European language, while 
P. Giles, who also believed that the Proto-Indo-European were agriculturists and not 
nomads, felt that they were more likely to have come from Hungary. Gordon Childe, 
however, felt that agriculture was a European innovation and located the homeland in 
southwest Russia on archaeological grounds. A. H. Sayce, who was to change his mind 
repeatedly, situated the homeland in Asia Minor based on the Hittite evidence in con¬ 
trast to T. Sulimirski, another forerunner of Gimbutas, who saw the Indo-Europeans as 
Russian nomads who buried their dead in burrows called kurgans, and who invaded 
Europe—a theory supported by Georges Poisson. 

I have discussed the partiality of German scholars to a German homeland in oppo¬ 
sition to an eastern or steppe one, and such views were further propagated by Walter 
Schulz, on the grounds of central European archaeological continuity; by Gustav Neckel, 
on the basis of the proto-Indo-European steed being the European horse; by Hans Heger, 
on archaeological evidence; and by Fritz Flor, also on theories of horse-riding origins. 
Wilhelm Koppers disrupted the Germanic tendencies somewhat by advocating West 
Turkestan as a homeland on the basis of the Indo-European connections with the Altaic 
peoples, only to be succeeded by Julius Pokorny, who defended a Central Europe home¬ 
land on the old grounds that Germany showed no evidence of non-Indo-European 
substratum influence and on other evidence. 

C. Uhlenbeck located the homeland in the Aral-Caspian steppes on grammatical 
grounds, while N. S. Trubetzkoy rejected the whole concept of a protolanguage, prefer¬ 
ring to speculate that the originally different Indo-European languages had developed 
similarities through geographic proximity'. Anything approaching a homeland, he be¬ 
lieved, would be found in an area nearer the Finno-Ugrics, due to the structural ana¬ 
logues of Indo-European with the Uralic and Caucasian families. Stuart Mann predi¬ 
cated a north or northeast European homeland on the grounds of comparative folklore, 
not far from where Ernst Meyer decided to siniate his nonnomadic, pig-keeping, seden¬ 
tary Indo-Europeans. Anton Scherer tried to satisfy everybody by proposing a large area 
that stretched west from the Urals, right across central and south Russia, and up to the 
Baltic, since this was an area that could accommodate both nomadic and sedentary 
cultures. Wilhelm Schmidt narrowed this area back down to central Asia on the grounds 
of the domesticated horse; Georg Solta, like Trubetzkoy, also rejected the whole concept 
of a protolanguage; and Thieme resurrected the German Urheimat position, again on 
the basis of linguistic paleontology. 

Alfons Nehring analyzed the non-Indo-European influences that he thought supported 
an Indo-European origin somewhere between the Altaic people and the Caucasus; Hugh 
Hencken, like Scherer, proposed a large compromise zone in southeast Europe and 
southwest Russia, while Weriand Merlingen supported Schrader’s thesis, and Gustav 
Schwantes returned to the German Urheimat theme. Bosch-Gimpera and G. Devoto 
advocated the Danubian cultures of central Europe as the most likely homeland candi¬ 
dates, to which Wolfgang Schmid concurred, proposing a Baltic Homeland on the 
grounds of Hans Krahe’s work on river hydronomy (which suggested that the rivers in 
Europe had old Indo-European names). 


Mytfis of Origin 

The original Aryans have been reconstructed as being nomadic pastoralists, seden¬ 
tary agriculturists, dolichocephalic, brachycephalic, blond and fair, and brown-haired 
and dark. The Indo-European homeland has been located and relocated everywhere 
from the North Pole to the South Pole, to China. It has been placed in South India, 
central India, North India, Tibet, Bactria, Iran, the Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Black 
Sea, Lithuania, the Caucasus, the Urals, the Volga Mountains, south Russia, the steppes 
of central Asia, Asia Minor, Anatolia, Scandinavia, Finland, Sweden, the Baltic, west¬ 
ern Europe, northern Europe, central Europe, and eastern Europe. 

Quite apart from the massive divergence of opinion among different scholars, on 
occasion even individual scholars cannot make up their own minds. In 1875, A. H. 
Sayce could “assume it has been proved that their original home was in Asia, and more 
particularly in the high plateau of the Hindu Kush” (389). In 1883, he was “much at¬ 
tracted by the hypothesis of Poesche which makes the Rokytno marshes the scene” (385). 
According to Sayce, “the evidence now shows that the districts in the neighbourhood of 
the Baltic were those from which the Aryan languages first radiated . . . though Penka 
rejects it with disdain” (385). Four years later Sayce (1887) had changed his mind to 
“conceive Dr. Penka to have been . . . right in identifying ‘the Aryans’ with the 
dolicocephalic inhabitants of central and North-western Europe . . . and thus remove 
the necessity of our falling back on Dr. Poesche’s theory, which traces . . . the white 
race to the Rokytno marshes of Russia” (52-53). The same man ended up convinced, 
in 1927, that the facts revealed that Asia Minor was the actual homeland (Mallory 
1989, 143). 

Not everyone has been lured by the quest tor the Indo-Europeans; there has been 
a long history in the West of scholars repeatedly voicing criticisms over the years: 
“The ‘problem’ is primarily in the head of Indo-Europeanists: It is a problem of in¬ 
terpretative logic and ideology. We have seen that one primarily places the IE’s in the 
north if one is German, ... in the east if one is Russian, and in the middle if, being 
Italian or Spanish, one has no chance of competing for the privilege” (Demoule 1 980, 
120). Earlier still, in 1948, Hankins articulated the level of disillusionment in his 

Skepticism in scholarly circles grew rapidly after 1880. The obvious impossibility of actu¬ 
ally locating the Aryan homeland; the increasing complexity of the problem with every 
addition to our knowledge of prehistoric cultures; the even more remote possibility of 
ever learning anything conclusive regarding the traits of the mythical “original Aryans”; 
the increasing realization that all the historical peoples were much mixed in blood and 
that the role of a particular race in a great miilange of races, though easy to exaggerate, is 
impossible to determine, the ridiculous and humiliating spectacle of eminent scholars 
subordinating their interests in truth to the inflation of racial and national pride—all these 
and many other reasons led scholars to declare either that the Aryan doctrine was a fig¬ 
ment of the professional imagination or that it was incapable of clarification because the 
crucial evidence was lost, apparently forever. (265) 

Even Mallory (1989), who has been the most prolific scholar in quest of the Indo- 
Europeans, is moved to quip: “One does not ask ‘where is the Indo-European home¬ 
land?’ but rather ‘where do they put it now?”’ (143). He concludes his summary of the 
various Indo-European homeland theories by noting that “the cynical have been tempted 
to describe it as the phlogiston of prehistoric research” (1973, 60). 

38 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Present-Day Homeland Hypotheses 
Gimbutas and the Kurgan Theory 

Interest in the Indo-European homeland problem seemed to wane during the decades 
after the war. Sherratt (1988) wonders whether perhaps many prehistorians avoided 
this issue in reaction to the political abuses of archaeology under the Nazis and the 
explicit racism that was the ultimate outcome of the Romantic search for ethnic origins 
in Germany (459). The last two decades or so, on the other hand, have seen an explo¬ 
sion of renewed interest. However, even after two hundred years of intense specula¬ 
tion, there is still no significant consensus regarding “where they put it now”; the 
situation has hardly changed. Referring to the panoply of present-day opinions, 
Mallory’s (1997) most recent conclusion is: “We have different sub-regions of an early 
IE world, scattered in space from the Baltic to Anatolia and east across the European 
steppe. ... To unify these disparate geographical elements together into a single ‘uni¬ 
fied theory’ seems to be as distant to those seeking such a goal in Indo-European 
studies as it is for physicists” (11 7). 

Two or three current theories will illustrate the extent to which methods and conclu¬ 
sions vary. The Caucasus area has received considerable attention as a likely homeland, 
although this proposal is receiving increasing criticism of late. Marijas Gimbutas, for 
well over half a century, has proposed an Uralic/Volgan steppe homeland. This is based 
on an archaeological culture labeled the Kurgan culture, which is distinguished by a 
specific type of burial mound found in that region (kurgan is the Slavic and Turkic term 
for ‘barrow’). Gimbutas argues that this culture can be adequately correlated with Indo- 
European culture as revealed by comparative philology. 13 Crucial to Gimbutas’s theory 
is the thesis that these Indo-Europeans were mounted warriors with male-associated 

Gimbutas’s Indo-European homeland. 


My its of Origin 

thrusting weapons who, being the first people to domesticate the horse, used their martial 
advantages to impose their culture on their neighbors in Old Europe. Gimbutas’s read¬ 
ing of the archaeological record reveals a dramatic upheaval in the life of the peaceful, 
egalitarian, agrarian, matriarchal and artistic Europeans of the fifth and fourth millen¬ 
nium B.c.e. as a result of these violent Kurgan intrusions. 

As Mallory (1989) points out, however, scholars have argued that “almost all of the 
arguments for invasion and cultural transformations are far better explained without 
reference to Kurgan expansions, and most of the evidence presented so far is either 
totally contradicted by other evidence or is the result of gross misinterpretation of the 
cultural history of . . . Europe” (185). Refreshingly undogmatic about the whole home¬ 
land enterprise, he nonetheless holds that her homeland is the least problematic of the 
various options. 14 Anthony (1995b) Although also accepting the steppe as the Indo- 
European Homeland, claims that Gimbutas’s Old-Europe theories would have passed 
unnoticed had they not caught the attention of ecofeminists. He points out that many 
Copper Age settlements in Old Europe, Gimbutas’s “gynocentric utopias,” were actu¬ 
ally heavily fortified, and some of the weapons in the Kurgan graves were probably imports 
from “peaceful” Europe. He accuses Gimbutas of taking archaeological items out of their 
proper context and finds deforestation and environmental degradation a more likely 
culprit for the transformation of Old Europe. Schmitt (1974), too, has pointed out ob¬ 
jections to Gimbutas’s methods: “Here is the radical error: With the methods of lin¬ 
guistic paleontology anything may be proved as Proto-Indo-European, but it can not be 
proved as typically Proto-Indo-European. Such reconstructions do not exclude the pos¬ 
sibility that this thing, institution or whatever it may be, may have existed also in other 
language families” (283). 

Renfrew (1987) is also completely dismissive of the validity of linguistic paleontol¬ 
ogy, as many scholars have been, since he feels that this method could accommodate 
“almost any homeland theory” (86). Through this perspective, since the south Russian 
homeland was originally established on the grounds of linguistic paleontology, any at¬ 
tempt to examine the archaeological evidence in an area defined by a suspect method is 
itself a priori suspect. Moreover, he notes (1999) that the earliest evidence of mounted 
warriors is not until 1000 b.c.e., far too late for Gimbutas’s theory and hence “without 
such military possibilities, the whole explanatory basis for the supposed 'kurgan’ inva¬ 
sion at the beginning of the Bronze Age disappears” (268). Zimmer (1990b) points out 
that while the Proto-Indo-Europeans knew the horse, there is no proof that they neces¬ 
sarily knew the domesticated horse, and there is no linguistic evidence that they fought 
on horseback (316-317). Renfrew (1998) pursues this line of argument by arguing that 
anyway the horse was not of military significance in Europe until around 1000 b.c.e.; 
during the Iron Age, which “undermine(s) the principal rationale sustaining the ‘Kurgan 
Migration’ theory for the origin of the Indo-European languages” (207). 

From a completely different angle, Dolgopolsky (1990-93) states that the “loan con¬ 
nections between IE and Semitic prove that speakers of proto-IE and proto-Semitic lived 
in territorial vicinity, which would have been impossible had we accepted Gimbutas’s (and 
Mallory’s) hypothesis of the Proto-Caspian steppes as the homeland of proto-IE” (244). 
Moreover, he notes that there are no loans from Proto-Indo-European into the Finno- 
Ugric languages or vice versa (although there are many from the later Indo-Iranian lan¬ 
guages), which he believes should have been the case had the Proto-Indo-European been 

40 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

neighbors with these languages in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (245). Renfrew can find no 
convincing evidence for the motive behind such a Kurgan spread: he notes that central 
and western Europe are not really suited to nomad pastoralism.' 5 He also rejects what he 
considers to be a migrationist view—a view, as we have seen, going back to Kossina, that 
treats any innovation in the archaeological record, such as a new pottery form or decora¬ 
tive style, as indicative of a migration of people and a displacement of language. Finally, 
in a response to his own critics, he points out that while the language of the Kurgan people 
may well have been Indo-European, “there is no logic in the inference that the belief sys¬ 
tem of the previous ‘Old Europe’ phase need be non-Indo-European simply because its 
iconography is different from what follows” (Renfrew 1990, 23). 

The most recent critique of Gimbutas at the time of this writing argues that her home¬ 
land theory is completely incompatible with the linguistic evidence: “Although the hy¬ 
pothesis claims to have answered the question of the origins of Proto-Indo-European 
(PIE), an inherently linguistic construct, there are serious problems with this hypothesis 
from a linguist’s point of view” (Kretl 1998, 267). Krell compiles lists of items of flora, 
fauna, economy, and technology that archaeology has accounted for in the Kurgan cul¬ 
ture and compares it with lists of the same categories as reconstructed by traditional 
historical-Indo-European linguistics (a method which will be discussed in detail in chapter 
6). She finds major discrepancies between the two. 16 She also underlines the fact, which 
will be dealt with at length in later chapters, that we cannot presume that the recon¬ 
structed term for ‘horse’, for example, referred to the domesticated equid in the protoperiod 
just because it did in later times. It could originally have referred to a wild equid, a 
possibility that would undermine the mainstay of Gimbutas’s arguments that the Kurgan 
culture first domesticated the horse and used this new technology to spread surround¬ 
ing areas, thus spreading the Indo-European languages. 

Krell (1998) further points out that the Proto-Indo-European had an agricultural ter¬ 
minology and not merely a pastoral one; “thus, one can hardly argue, based on the 
linguistic data, that Gimbutas’ Kurgan economy is unmistakenly reflected in PIE” (274). 
As for technology, “there are also equally plausible reconstructions such as *nau . . . 
which suggest knowledge of navigation, a technology quite untypical of Gimbutas’ Kurgan 
society” (274). Krell concludes that 

Gimbutas seems to first establish a Kurgan hypothesis, based on purely archaeological 
observations, and then proceeds to create a picture of the PIE homeland and subsequent 
dispersal which fits neatly over her archaeological findings. The problem is that in order 
to do this, she has had to be rather selective in her use of linguistic data, as well as in 
her interpretation of that data. This is putting the cart before the horse. Such an unsys¬ 
tematic approach should have given her linguistic proponents real cause for question¬ 
ing the relevance of her theory, especially if one considers that, by virtue of its nature, 
the study of PIE is first and foremost a matter for linguistic, not archaeological investi¬ 
gation. (279-280) 

Renfrew and the West Anatolian Homeland 

Rather than an aggressive, mounted seminomad from the steppes, Renfrew (1987) con¬ 
structs a peaceful, sedentary agriculturist from Anatolia as his Indo-European par excel¬ 
lence. No two accounts could be metre at odds than Gimbutas’s and Renfrew’s. For the 

Myths of Origin 41 

Renfrew’s Indo-European homeland with two hypothoses (A & B) for the trajectory of Indo- 

latter, the spread of the Indo-European languages was achieved not by Gimbutas’s horse- 
riding warriors but by the gradual spread of farming techniques. Moreover, faulting the 
circular reasoning that he feels is employed in support of the fifth millennium b.c.e. 
date commonly assigned to the united Proto-Indo-Europeans, Renfrew proposes a date 
around 7000 b.c.e., based on paleoethnobotanical dates for the introduction of farm¬ 
ing into Europe from Anatolia. Quite apart from his assignment of a much earlier date 
than his peers are comfortable with, his theory has been particularly criticized on lin¬ 
guistic grounds. Place-names, for example, are the most conservative and durable part 
of a language and are generally retained even by other intruding linguistic groups that 
might superimpose themselves on an area, yet place-names in Anatolia are unanalyzable 
as Indo-European. Crossland (1988) wonders why, if Anatolia were the original home¬ 
land, the Indo-European language discovered there, Hittite, had so little impact on 
neighboring languages and was itself a minority language heavily influenced by die non- 
Indo-European languages in the environs such as Hurrian and Hattie. Renfrew has also 
been criticized for not accounting for the language connections between Finno-Ugric 
and Indo-European, which, if correct, would suggest the neighboring relationships of 
these languages in the Volga Valley. 

Zimmer (1990a, 319) notes that there are no words reconstructable in Proto-Indo- 
European for wheat and barley, Renfrew’s basic agricultural crops. This objection was 
elaborated upon by Haarmann (1994), who notes that Proto-Indo-European would have 
had a full-fledged agricultural vocabulary in the protolanguage were Renfrew’s theory to 
hold good. This is not the case, since the European languages and the Indo-Iranian 
ones seem to have developed separate sets of agricultural terms after the dispersal. 
Haarman also notes that were Renfrew correct any such hypothetical Proto-Indo-Euro¬ 
pean agricultural terms would have been borrowed by language families adjacent to 

42 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Anatolia, such as Semitic, which is not the case. Also, such terms would have surfaced 
in Greek, but the agricultural terms in this language are non-Indo-European. Archaeol¬ 
ogy, too, does not support an intrusion into Greece from Anatolia. 17 

Lamberg-Karlovsky (1988, 2) points out that if agriculture was invented by Indo-Eu¬ 
ropeans, then people in a broad area from the Sinai to the Iranian Plateau must have 
spoken Indo-European at 7000 b.c.e. at the very latest. Moreover, the earliest domesti¬ 
cation of cereals began at least by 9000 b.c.e., not in Renfrew’s 7000 b.c.e. and in the 
Natufian culture best known from archaeological work in Israel not in Anatolia. As far 
as he is concerned, “the complex interaction of numerous communities . . . spread over 
a large area of the Near East forms the background to an understanding of agricultural 
origins, ... a process which took several thousand years, involved numerous distinct 
archaeological cultures that no doubt spoke a variety of different languages.” He has 
little sympathy for such a complex process being “simplified by Professor Renfrew to 
the ludicrous formula 7000 b.c.e. Anatolia = farming = Indo-Europeans” (2). 

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov and the East Anatolian Homeland 

An Anatolian homeland, albeit based on very different methods and located farther 
east and much later than Renfrew’s homeland has received the support of the linguists 
Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov over the years (1983a, b, 1985, 1990,a b, 
1995). They utilize the evidence of loanwords, particularly Semitic ones, to situate their 
homeland adjacent to the Middle East—not far from where, well over two hundred years 
ago, James Parsons had put the descendants of Noah. Using linguistic paleontology, 
these linguists have reconstructed a mountainous landscape for the Indo-European 
homeland, based on the many cognate words for high mountains, mountain lakes, and 

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s Indo-European homeland. 


Myths of Origin 

rapid rivers flowing from mountain sources. They argue that this is incompatible with 
the plains of central Europe but quite suitable for the area around eastern Anatolia backed 
by the Caucasus. In addition, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov present a much warmer, and 
exotic, southern landscape and climate—replete with monkeys and elephants—than 
Gimbutas’s cold, austere, northern scenario. 

However, many of the Semitic loanwords that are fundamental to Gamkrelidze and 
Ivanov’s situating of the homeland next to the Near East have been challenged by 
D’iakonov, who defends a Balkan-Carpathian homeland and finds particular problems 
with the details of the tribe migrations in their model. Manczak (1990) points out that 
the Indo-European language Armenian, which is spoken more or less in Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov’s putative homeland, shows signs of massive substratum influence, indicat¬ 
ing that it was not indigenous to the area. Moreover, the archaeologists—such as Gimbutas 
and Mallory—feel archaeological evidence has not been sufficiently accounted for in 
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s model, which is primarily linguistic, and that there is insuf¬ 
ficient archaeological evidence accompanying the postulated spread of Indo-European 
languages from this area. Where Gimbutas relies almost exclusively on archaeology and 
demonstrates a panoramic mastery over a mass of archaeological minutiae in her series 
of articles, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov awe their readers with an encyclopedic exhibition 
of comparative linguistic detail in a thousand-page tome that requires a separate volume 
just to incorporate the bibliography and index. Yet these two scholars have reconstructed 
dramatically different locations and cultures for the homeland. Still another recent and 
innovative theory situating the homeland in Bactria, that of Nichols, will be discussed 
at length in later chapters. 


Scholars hardly agree on even the most basic details of the Indo-European—any more in 
the present than they did in the past. Such lack of scholarly consensus on even basic 
points perhaps epitomizes the history and culture of the Indo-European homeland quest 
more than most other comparable undertakings. Typically, a convincing and detailed 
proposal offered in one field (e.g., archaeology) is undermined by evidence from an¬ 
other (i.e., linguistics) and vice versa. Any attempt to isolate or highlight one aspect of 
the data as paramount is inevitably countered by contradictory conclusions produced 
by other factors. A convincing picture has yet to emerge from the totality of evidence 
despite significant advances in the relevant disciplines. 18 

Even within disciplines, archaeologists such as Renfrew, Gimbutas, and Mallory, just 
like their predecessors in the last century or so, significantly disagree with each other de¬ 
spite their sharing a common field. As for dialogue across disciplines, that is, between 
archaeologists and linguists, even when a common language can be agreed upon, basic 
points of reconstructed Indo-European culture are often not. Gimbutas’s (1985) recon¬ 
structed Proto-Indo-European, as noted, is a seminomadic pastoralist: “Neither archaeol¬ 
ogy nor linguistic evidence supports the hypothesis that the proto-Indo-European culture 
was in the stage of developed agriculture” (186). In the same journal, the linguist D’iakonov 
(1985) states: “The Proto-Indo-Europeans were not nomads: their well-developed agricul¬ 
ture and social terminology testifies against this; and so does history” (148). 

44 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Both linguists and archaeologists sometimes claim primacy for their discipline over 
locating the Indo-Europeans. The linguist Rudiger Schmitt (1974) notes that several 
prehistorians have assigned a variety of quite different homelands to the Indo-Europeans 
that all seem to fit the presently available linguistic data reasonably well. Since the Indo- 
Europeans are a linguistic concept, he argues that it is ultimately meaningless to search 
for archaeological evidence of their existence until linguistics and philology can narrow 
down their whereabouts much more precisely. Only then should archaeology be called 
in to identify them materially. Otherwise, “prehistorians have no difficulty in finding 
evidence in many locations which will fit the existing linguistic data” (285). Gimbutas 
(1974), despite giving some token recognition to the “gold mine” of two centuries’ worth 
of linguistic research, launches her response (which deals almost exclusively with ar¬ 
chaeological material, as do all her publications) with an aggressive claim: “It is quite 
obvious that the solution of the PIE origins—on a spatial and temporal basis—is in the 
hands of archaeologists” (289). Responding to this remark, in turn, another linguist, 
Dolgopolsky, who also locates the homeland in Anatolia on linguistic grounds, retorts: 
“I completely disagree with Gimbutas’ statement. ... It is, on the contrary, far from 
self-evident how archaeologists utilizing the non-linguistic means at their disposal can 
determine what language the bearers of some Pit-Grave culture or Battle-Axe culture spoke” 
(1987, 7). He continues to give rein to his impatience: “It is here maintained that the 
linguists are ultimately responsible for determining the geographical and cultural pa¬ 
rameters of the PIE community, and that any attempt on the part of the archaeologists 
to reach a conclusion without due consideration of all the relevant linguistic data is 
liable to lead them into serious error” (7). Linguistics must first do the groundwork: 
“Once the spatial and temporal parameters of the putative homeland have been identi¬ 
fied on the basis of linguistic evidence, the archaeologist can set about the task of decid¬ 
ing which civilisation . . . can be plausibly associated with PIE” (7; italics in original). 

In addition to this divide within disciplines that is evident from the disagreements 
between archaeologists and archaeologists, and between linguists and linguists, and to 
the cross-disciplinary divide between archaeologists and linguists, there is also a mas¬ 
sive East-West divide of which few in the West seem even aware. Until very recently, 
Western scholars have paid little or no attention to, or are completely unaware of, the 
reaction of scholars outside Western intellectual circles to the Indo-European debate. 
Western scholars, whose primary emphasis and concern, at least historically, have been 
the origins of Western civilization, have renegotiated and reconfigured the pre- and 
protohistory of other nations such as India as by-products of their investigations. Yet, 
for the most part, they have not been exposed to the concerns over, and responses to, 
their formulations expressed by the native scholars from those very countries. India, in 
particular, initiated the whole field of Indo-European studies when it’s language and 
rich culture were “discovered” by Western scholars. Yet opinions from that country, 
especially if in disagreement with the more forceful voices in the West, are poorly un¬ 
derstood or cursorily dismissed. This has deprived Western scholars of alternative views 
that might force them to question their own inherited assumptions—assumptions that 
have not always been shared by those outside mainstream Western academic spheres of 
influence who have filtered the Indo-European problem through different historical, 
religio-cultural, social, and political mind-sets. It has likewise deprived these Indian 
scholars of valuable feedback from their Western peers. The following chapters will 


Myths of Origin 

attempt to help bridge this divide by articulating some of the more coherent, sober, and 
rational responses to the Indo-European homeland problem that have been expressed 
by intellectuals from the Indian subcontinent over the years. 19 

As we turn to some of the reactions to this massive European intellectual enterprise, 
it should not be surprising when some Indian scholars, trying to make sense of all this, 

Instead of letting us know definitely and precisely where the so-called original home of 
the Aryans lay, they drag us into a maze of conjectures clouded hy the haze of presump¬ 
tions. The whole subject of the Aryan problem is a farrago of linguistic speculations or 
archaeological imaginations complicated hy racial prejudices and chauvinistic xenopho¬ 
bia. It is high time we extricate ourselves from this chaos of bias and belief. (Prakash, 
1966, xliv) 

Given the history of the Indo-European problem, it seems hardly surprising that many 
Indian scholars have found themselves incapable of being co-opted by the prolific array 
of theories produced by their Western colleagues. In a remarkably penetrating and well- 
informed critique of the whole field written in the 1930s, when German Aryanism was 
in full swing, B. N. Dutta (1936) states: “‘Germanism’ arose amidst the peculiar politi¬ 
cal condition of nineteenth century Germany. ... it has become the political shibboleth 
of the occidental nations. ... we cannot see any reason why, in India, we should pin 
our anthropological faith in [it]” (238). Criticizing the “slave psychology of the Indian 
mind,” Dutta continues: 

We find that pan-Germanic bias is in possession of the field of enquiry of the ancient 
Indian civilization and Indian scholars are imbibing it through the medium of the En¬ 
glish language. In the field of anthropology, “Germanism” reigns supreme in India, the 
Indians, . . . seeing the outside world only through the English language, have accepted 
the views of the “Master” people as the only truth. . . . And we glory in it because it is the 
gift of the “Master” people. (247) 

Such comments do not necessarily reveal some antischolaTly quirk of a traditional 
Hindu mind-set. On the contrary, I have referred to a history of cynicism in Western 
intellectual circles over this issue. I hope, this chapter has suggested why, historically at 
least, there might be some very good reasons for Indian scholars to be suspicious of the 
whole enterprise, and of the ability of those engaged in it to make authoritative pro¬ 
nouncements on the early history of the Indian subcontinent and the Indo-Aryans. I 
can perhaps set the stage and the tone for the next chapters by concluding this brief 
survey of the history of the Indo-European homeland problem with some sympathy for 
another disillusioned response voiced from somewhere in South India—one that is quite 
representative of the Indigenous Aryan opinion of the whole Indo-European homeland 

For nearly two centuries the investigations went on, and voluminous works were written 
on the subject. The net result of their investigations ended in failure, and nothing defi¬ 
nite was settled either in the sphere of language or race. What they finally left behind is 
the fiction of Ursprache [original language] with a false Urvolk [original people], who are 
found located in an equally nebulous Urheimat [homeland]. (C. Pillai 1940, 2) 


Early Indian Responses 

It took considerable time for Indian literati to come to grips with the implications of the 
Indo-European debates raging in Europe. Kopf (1969) has outlined the various avenues 
through which European learning first became accessible to the Indian public. 1 There 
was, of course, the nationalist response, which has been the element of most interest to 
scholars studying Indian reactions to the colonial construction of ancient Indian his¬ 
tory. The nationalists were quick to incorporate Orientalist portrayals of ancient India 
into their political agenda. As we have seen, the Orientalists, despite renegotiating cer¬ 
tain historical and temporal details, had shown genuine appreciation for the achieve¬ 
ments of the Aryan past, were quite happy to deter to the ancient Hindu Aryans as 
more civilized and advanced than their ancient European Aryan contemporaries, and 
generally contributed to a depiction of a previous golden age in which Hindus could 
take vicarious pride. 

As was the case in the West, diere were all sorts of reactions to, and appropriations 
of, the discovery of a shared Aryan pedigree from the Indian subcontinent in popular, 
political, and religious discourse. The first section of this chapter will briefly touch upon 
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century nationalistic co-options of the Aryan theory in 
terms of its applicability for Indian relations with the colonial power and for internal 
power dynamics among competing sets of interests among Indians themselves. This 
section could of course be the subject of a full treatment in its own right, so at the risk 
of not doing sufficient justice to an important topic, I will extract a brief selection of 
these reactions to provide something of a parallel to the Aryan discourse in Europe 
during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The socio-political context of the 
modern period in India will be discussed in more depth in chapter 13. The second 
section of this chapter will describe the first stirrings of opposition to the theory itself, 
which were inaugurated by prominent religious leaders. 


Early Indian Responses 


Hindu Nationalist Responses 

To many Hindus, the concept of Arya served primarily as a patriotic rallying cry. 
Raychaudhuri (1988) outlines this immediate, and more euphoric, level of reflexive 
popular response: 

The Hindu self-image had received a moral boost from . . . the writings of Professor Max 
Mueller. His linguistic studies stressed the common origin of Indo-European languages and 
the Aryan races. These theories, translated into popular idiom, were taken to mean that the 
master race and the subject population were descended from the same Aryan ancestors. 

The result was a spate of Aryanism. Books, journals, societies rejoiced in the Aryan iden¬ 
tity. . . . Educated young men, in large numbers, affected a demonstrative reversion to the 
ways of their forefathers—with fasts, pigtails, well-displayed sacred threads, and other stig¬ 
mata of Hindu orthodoxy. The name “Aryan” appeared in every possible and impossible 
context—in the titles of books as much as in the names of drug stores. (34—35) 

As outlined in the first chapter, Max Muller (1884) had been very influential in intro¬ 
ducing the theme of shared ancestry in India: “We recognize in Ram Mohan Roy’s 
visit to England the meeting again of the two great branches of the Aryan race, after 
they had been separated so long that they had lost all recollection of their common 
origin, common language, and common faith” (11). Understandably, not all Hindus 
were about to be taken in by this type of rhetoric; Muller himself quotes a “native 
writer” from the Calcutta Indian Mirror (September 20, 1874) who exclaimed: “We 
were niggers at one time. We now become brethren” (quoted in Chakrabarti, 1997, 
99). Some had grown wary of Aryan discourses. But many Hindus, such as Tukaram 
Tatya, took the opportunity to point out that “the difference between the European 
and the Asiatic will be held to be of little moment” when consideration was directed 
to the common Aryan bond. After all, since “the Hindus represent the older branch 
of the great Aryan stock, . . . our European brethren should look upon us as filled 
with the same blood” (93). 

There have been a number of studies outlining the various nuances in the relation¬ 
ship between the Orientalist construction of the Aryan past and the Indian nationalist 
movement (e.g., Leopold 1970). Scholars have long pointed out how early Orientalist 
and Romantic themes such as “India was the cradle of the arts and sciences,” “Egypt, 
Greece, and Rome were her pupils and recipients,” and “The Hindus were among the 
first civilized nations when the nations of Europe had hardly risen above the hunting or 
nomad state” were readily appropriated by Indian intellectuals, since they offered some 
level of consolation to a subjected people (McCully 1966, 245-248). Moreover, Hindu 
Aryanism could not just be vaunted as evidence of equality with the colonial rulers but 
as proof of the Hindus’ moral superiority': British despotism and materialism were por¬ 
trayed as deviations from Aryan principles (Leopold 1 970, 278). Hindu reformers such 
as Vivekananda (1970-73) felt that it was the western Aryans that were being given the 
opportunity to learn from their Hindu Aryan brethren (i.e., more specifically, from him¬ 
self): “Which of us ever dreamt that a descendant of the old Indian Aryans, by dint of 
Tapas, would prove to the learned people of England and America the superiority of 
the ancient Indian religion over other creeds?” (3:350). Nor was this exchange just to 
take place on Indian soil as a result of Western initiative; if the Western Aryans had 

48 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

overpowered India materially, the Indian Aryans were destined to conquer the West 

Two curious nations there have been—sprung of the same race . . . the ancient Hindu 
and the Greek. The Indian Aryan . . . became introspective. The analysis of his own 
mind was the great theme of the Indo-Aryan. With the Greek, on the other hand, ... his 
mind naturally went outside. It wanted to analyze the external world. . . . Today the an¬ 
cient Greek is meeting the ancient Hindu on the soil of India. . . . We must be always 
ready to sit at the feet of all. ... At the same time we must not forget that we have also 
to teach a great lesson to the world. . . . the gift of India is the gift of religion and philoso¬ 
phy, and wisdom and spirituality. ... we must go out, must conquer the world through 
our spirituality and philosophy. (Vivekananda 1970-73, 3:269-273) 2 

Such sentiments were typical of the time. The Theosophists like Olcott also contrib¬ 
uted to notions of Hindu Aryan superiority in their addresses to groups such as the 
Arya Samaj: “Recognizing as we do the Aryan source of our race and of its knowledge 
of things terrestrial and celestial, we, Theosophists will feel proud to he permitted to call 
ourselves your disciples” (Sarda 1946, 529; italics in original). Keshub Chandra Sen ([1901 — 
4] 1954) later echoed similar themes when recognizing that “in the advent of the En¬ 
glish nation in India, we see a reunion of parted cousins, the descendants of two differ¬ 
ent families of the Aryan race.” Each had a valid role to play: “India in her present 
fallen condition seems destined to sit at the feet of England for many long years, to 
learn Western art and science. And, on the other hand, behold England sits at the feet 
of hoary-headed India to study the ancient literature of this country” (325). Unlike some 
of his other religious contemporaries, Sen did not hesitate to stress the duties Aryan 
kinship involved that were incumbent on the materialistic side of the family: “May 
England . . . [give] us as much of the light of the West as lies in her power! That is her 
mission in India. May she fulfill it nobly and honourably. Let England give us her in¬ 
dustry and arts, her exact sciences and her practical philosophy” (325-326). His brother 
was equally idealistic: “The Hindu and the Englishman are brothers! . . . every brother 
man is learning to recognize in the face of his fellow-creatures the image of his first 
forefathers. . . . Let that unity be the groundwork of future peace and brotherhood” 
(Leopold, 273). 

Not all were prepared to acknowledge the material advantages that might be gained 
from the English Aryan brethren, however. Although K. C. Sen (1954) had waxed elo¬ 
quent about the benefits derivable from gallant Aryan England—“Fallen [Aryan] India cried 
for help, and lo! at Heaven’s bidding England hastened to her rescue” (126)—others saw 
things differently. The very first line of Lajpat Rai’s book England’s Debt to India (191 7) is 
“India once was rich.” In contrast to Sen’s rhapsody, despite appropriating Orientalist 
tropes of previous golden ages “when Greece and Italy, those cradles of European civiliza¬ 
tion, nursed only the tenants of a wilderness [and] India was the seat of wealth and gran¬ 
deur” (4), Rai was adamant that the British conquest of India had been “the most insidi¬ 
ous, most prolonged and most devastating to the conquered” (319). In this narrative, 
England had plundered her Aryan sibling, not “hastened to her rescue.” 

The more moderate Gokhale (1920), who was prepared to allow that other members 
of the Aryan family “brought their own treasure into the common stock” (1023), also 
appropriated Orientalist discourse: “The people of India are an ancient race who had 
attained a high degree of civilization long before the ancestors of European nations 

Early Indian Responses 


understood what civilization was. India has long been the birthplace of great religions. 
She was also the cradle and long home of literature and philosophy, of science and 
arts” (925). Dayananda Saraswati refused to recognize any Hindu Aryan debt to Europe 
even on a material level—everything came from India: “The people of Egypt, Greece or 
the continent of Europe were without a trace of learning before the spread of Knowl¬ 
edge from India” (238). 

The construction of a golden past is hardly unique to India. The development of 
nationalisms almost invariably involves the creation of a sense of continuity between 
the past and the present. This past is mined for material with which to construe a sense 
of historic identity, unity, glory, and continuity to inspire political action in the present— 
Hobsbawn’s “invention of tradition.” Obviously, these themes offer hope for a future 
return to an idyllic state once real-life political obstacles are surmounted by adoption of 
a nationalist agenda. Bipan Chandra (1984) has argued that, on the one side, the na¬ 
tionalist leaders needed a theme with instant psychological appeal that could inculcate 
the idea of nationalism in the masses without alarming the imperialist powers; on the 
other, the British encouraged this sense of identification with an idyllic spiritual Hindu 
past so that the de facto material British present would not be jeopardized. 

Just as the Aryan connection was configured to support a wide variety of domestic 
and colonial agendas by Europeans, it surfaced in a variety of ways among Indians in 
their internal negotiations with each other, in addition to their dealings with the exter¬ 
nal imperial power. The Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy was put to political use both by 
Brahman elitists in the North and by Tamilian separatist voices in the South who were 
quick to capitalize on the idea of Aryan invasions. From the former camp, for example, 
Ranade approved of the derogatory descriptions made by Western scholars like Abbe 
Dubois of the abominable practices extant in the South. In his view this situation oc¬ 
curred because Aryan Brahman influence had “hardly penetrated below the upper classes.” 
The Aryan Brahmanical settlers were “too few in numbers and too weak in power to 
make any lasting impression beyond their own limited circle upon the multitudes who 
constituted the aboriginal races in the Southern Peninsula” (Ranade [1915] 1992, 205). 
The Orientalist view that Hinduism consisted of the morally and culturally superior 
Aryans who were detrimentally influenced by their merger with the backward and primi¬ 
tive aboriginals was happily regurgitated by many Brahmanas for whom Brahmanical 
Aryanism corresponded to civilization. 

Although not all Hindu nationalists participated in the denigration of Dravidian 
culture, most did share a strong conviction that India could be saved by returning to 
the purity of a reconstituted Sanskritic Aryanism. Ramaswamy (1997) and Irschick (1971) 
outline the reaction to such attitudes that took firm root in the South in the form of 
neo-Saivism. According to spokesmen from southern castes like the Chetti and Vellala, 
who were particularly dismayed by the prospect of Brahmanical culture highjacking the 
emerging nation, “it was not the Dravidians who corrupted a pristine Hinduism. . . . 
on the contrary, it was Brahmanism and Aryanism that had debased the original Tamil 
religion and diverted it from its hallowed path of monotheism, rationalism, and egali¬ 
tarianism into the ‘gutters’ of polytheism, irrational rituals, and unjust social hierar¬ 
chies” (Ramaswamy 1997, 29-30). For them the Dravidian religion far predated that of 
the Aryans, not just in the South, but all over the subcontinent. Siva was a pre-Aryan 
Tamilian deity whom the later Aryan intruders had pressed into service in their own 

50 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

pantheon. By the time neo-Saivism was in full swing in the 1920s, it was not Sanskrit 
but Tamil that was the world’s original, divine language. Others went further: “Most of 
what is ignorantly called Aryan Philosophy, Aryan Civilization is literally Dravidian or 
Tamilian at bottom” (Sundaram Pillai, quoted in Irschick, 1971, 152). 

Phule, at the end of the nineteenth century, was one of die earliest proponents of 
such ideas: 

The aboriginals like the Gon ds and the Bhils were the masters (rulers) of this land India, 
and the Iranians (Aryans) came to India at a later date (as invaders and interlopers). . . . 
The Aryan invaders (Brahmins) desecrated the sacred sacrifices here, robbed and oppressed 
the original inhabitants and stigmatised them as “Dasyus. . . . The (Indian) Civil Service 
has been (unjustly) monopolized by the Aryan Brahmans (here) and I beg to submit that 
it portends a great danger to the whole nation.” (Patil 1991, 132) 

Others went further. Perhaps the best known detractor of Aryan culture was Periyar 
E. V. Ramaswami, the leader of the Dravidian movement in South India. Ramaswami 
despised almost everything that has come to be known as “Hinduism,” portraying it 
as an Aryan imposition on an indigenous Dravidian populace. He exhorted that “the 
Tamil . . . may liberate himself from the Aryan yoke.” In his version of things, “the 
Aryans, when they invaded the ancient land of the Dravidas, maltreated and dishonoured 
the latter and had written a false and coloured history wholly fallacious. It is this they 
call Ramayana wherein Rama and his accomplishes are styled as Aryas, Ravana as 
Rakshasa.” Ramaswami’s book is dedicated “to mirror to the Tamils what ascendancy 
is given to the Aryan and how disgracefully the other communities are deprecated” 
(Ramaswami, 1981, 2-3). It is Ravana, in Ramaswami’s reading of the plot, who is the 
true Dravidian hero who attempted, unsuccessfully, to save his people from the exploi¬ 
tation and tyranny of the invading Aryans. Ramaswami’s mission was dedicated to 
detaching, both culturally and politically, the life of his fellow Tamils from Brahman- 
dominated Aryan influence. 3 

Ambedkar also attempted to uplift those who had suffered the most at the hands 
of Brahmanical Aryan culture: the Sudras. But, unlike Ramaswami, his method was 
not to attempt to uncouple this social class from an alien Aryan culture. On the con¬ 
trary, according to Ambedkar (1946), “the Shudras were one of the Aryan communi¬ 
ties of the Solar race. . . . The Shudras did not form a separate Varna. They ranked as 
part of the Kshatriya Varna in the Indo-Aryan society” (v). On the basis of a variety 
of passages, particularly Mahabharata, santi parvan 38-40 (which describes a Sudra 
by the name of Paijavana performing a major sacrifice conducted by Brahamanas), 
Ambedkar argued that the Sudras were once wealthy, glorified and respected by rsis, 
composers of Vedic hymns, and performers of sacrifice. Due to continuous feuding 
with the Brahmana class, the Sudras inflicted many tyrannies on the Brahmanas, who, 
in retaliation, denied them the upanayana initiation ceremony, causing them to even¬ 
tually become socially degraded. 

Ambedkar, in his book Who Were the Sudras? (1946) offers a critique of the philo¬ 
logical basis of the Aryan invasion theory, that in places is well-informed and well- 
argued. He adamantly rejected this theory, which he saw as partly responsible for propa¬ 
gating the erroneous idea that the Sudras were a non-Aryan, indigenous ethnic group. 
Nonetheless, he does resonate with Periyar Ramaswami on one issue: 

Early Indian Responses 51 

The Aryan race theory is so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago. But far from 
being dead, the theory has a considerable hold upon the people. . . . The first explana¬ 
tion is to be found in the support which the theory receives from Brahmin scholars. This 
is a very strange phenomenon. As Hindus, they should ordinarily show a dislike for the 
Aryan theory with its express avowal of the superiority of the European races over the 
Asiatic races. But the Brahmin scholar has not only no such aversion but most willingly 
hails it. The reasons are obvious. The Brahmin believes in the two nation theory. He 
claims to be the representative of the Aryan race, and he regards the rest of the Hindus 
as descendants of the non-Aryans. The theory helps him establish his kinship with the 
European races and share their arrogance and their superiority. ... it helps him main¬ 
tain and justify his overlordship over the non-Brahmins. (76) 

Other spokesmen for the most disadvantaged castes had different ideas about how 
to redress injustices. In their estimation, better gains might be had by accepting the 
Aryan invasion theory, with all its implications, rather than rejecting it: “Even the present 
Swarajists [those demanding independence]—the Aryans—were themselves invaders like 
the Muhammadans and the Europeans. If this country has to be governed by aborigi¬ 
nes, all the offices must necessarily be filled by the original inhabitants—the Chamars, 
the Kurumbas, the Bhils, the Panchamas, etc.” (quoted in Irschick, 1971, 154). As far 
as some in the South were concerned, it was a “misrepresentation to say that the Brah¬ 
mins belong to the same Indian nation as the non-Brahmins while the English are 
aliens. . . . Indian Brahmins are more alien to us than Englishmen” (Raghavan, quoted 
in Irschick, 1971, 158). 

In short, although the excesses of Aryan ideology in Europe would be hard to sur¬ 
pass, the Indians themselves were not averse to attempting to extract political mileage 
from the Aryan theme to support their own agendas. Indeed, in about 1920, one Visnu 
Sakharam Pandit filed an immigration court case in America, claiming to be a Euro¬ 
pean. Since immigration was closed to Asiatics at that time, the ingenious fellow said 
he could prove that he was a Brahman and therefore a fellow Aryan. The argument was 
even entertained for a while, until a California court ruled that the Aryan invasion theory 
was precisely that: just a theory, and therefore not citable as credible proof for immigra¬ 
tion purposes. 

The First Reactions: Hindu Religious Leaders 

Before moving on to an examination of the historical evidence, 1 would like to touch on 
another dimension to the Aryan invasion problem here, in the context of early Indian 
responses, before addressing it in a more general way in chapter 13. This involves is¬ 
sues of epistemology. After all, the Aryan invasion theory had significant implications 
for traditional Hindu concepts of history. In traditional Sanskrit sources, the Aryans 
are portrayed as the enlightened and cultured members of a spiritually advanced civili¬ 
zation, and the Vedas, sacred to millions of Hindus, have traditionally been accepted by 
the orthodox as spiritual revelations, transmitted by generations of sages through the 
ages since time immemorial. They contain no reference to a primitive, nomadic origin 
outside of the subcontinent. 

British scholars, particularly the utilitarians, enthusiastically expanding the scientific 
frontiers of post-Enlightenment, colonial Europe, were in no mind to seriously consider 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

such propositions, especially after science and reason had forced them to relinquish the 
earliest historical claims of their own biblical tradition: “The Brahmens are the most 
audacious, and perhaps the most unskillful fabricators, with whom the annals of fable 
have yet made us acquainted” (Mill [1820] 1975, 34). The remote forefathers of the 
Indians, these scholars informed their South Asian subjects, were, as Emeneau (1954) 
was to put it later, “nomadic, barbarous looters and cattle-raiders” (287), not gentle sages 
teaching spiritual truths. Those very Vedas, they claimed, had been composed by fierce, 
nomadic tribesmen from Europe or central Asia—the Indo-Europeans, Indo-Germans, 
or Aryans—who had usurped the Indian subcontinent some time in the second millen¬ 
nium b.c.e. by force of arms, enslaving and exterminating those they encountered in 
their way. Viewed from within the framework of the rational, nineteenth- and twentieth 
century European mind-set, these Vedas were hymns of war and booty, and lusty invo¬ 
cations to anthropomorphic gods, not esoteric, divine revelations transmitted by enlight¬ 
ened beings from some imaginary golden age. 

Fully committed to this rational and empirical worldview, and fortified by disci¬ 
plines such as linguistics, epigraphy, numismatics, archaeology, anthropology, philol¬ 
ogy, and a host of other ‘ologies’, European scholars presented a historical account of 
ancient India that was radically different from the narratives that orthodox Hindus 
had preserved for many centuries. Moreover, these new disciplines were entirely in¬ 
congruous with traditional epistemology, which was predominantly exegetical. All of 
a sudden, foreigners such as the Greeks, despite their traditional role as mlecchds (for¬ 
eigners) and barbarians, became one of the only reliable sources for determining Indian 
chronology. Just as unexpectedly, the dates of heterodox figures such as the Buddha 
became the cornerstones of any attempt at historical reconstruction. A comparison of 
the sacred, Vedic language with rude, mleccha tongues from outside the sacred Bharata 
varsa resulted in the eternal Veda being demoted to a historical evolute from an even 
earlier language, Proto-Indo-European—a language spoken by coarse, violent horsemen 
from the barbarian lands far to the northwest of what was recognized by the sdstras as 
the sacred Aryavarta. A terminus a quo was established for the eternal Veda, correspond¬ 
ing to the supposed arrival of the Indo-Aryan branch of these Indo-Europeans into India 
around 1 200 b.c.e. These interpretations of India’s historical data by Europeans were 
made public through such institutions as the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal and quickly 
became the standard version of ancient history taught in the schools and colleges that 
soon began to proliferate in British India. Understandably, such reductionistic, philo- 
logically derived depictions bruised religious sensitivities. According to Aurobindo 

In ancient times the Veda was revered as a sacred book of wisdom, a great mass of in¬ 
spired poetry, the work of Rishis, seers and sages. . . . Truth . . . not of an ordinary but 
of a divine inspiration and source. Is this all legend and moonshine, or a groundless and 
even nonsensical tradition? . . . The European scholars . . . went on to make their own 
etymological explanation of the words, or build up their own conjectural meanings of the 
Vedic verses and gave a new presentation often arbitrary and imaginative. What they sought 
for in the Veda was the early history of India, its society, institutions, customs, a civilisation- 
picture of the times. They invented the dreory based on the difference of languages of an 
Aryan invasion from the north. . . . The Vedic religion was in this account only a wor¬ 
ship of Nature-Gods full of solar myths and consecrated by sacrifices and a sacrificial 

Early Indian Responses 53 

liturgy primitive enough in its ideas and contents, and it is these barbaric prayers that are 
the much vaunted, haloed and apotheosized Veda, (i—iii) 

Such Indological depictions of the Vedic times continue to aggravate religious Hindus 
to this day. As described by Agrawal (1996): 

For thousands of years Hindu society has looked upon the Vedas as the fountainhead of 
all knowledge . . . and the mainstay of Hindu culture. . . . Never have our historical or 
religious records questioned this tact. And now, suddenly, in the last century or so, it has 
been propagated that the Vedas do not belong to the Hindus, they were the creation of a 
barbaric horde of nomadic tribes who descended upon North India and destroyed an 
advanced indigenous civilization. (3) 

The first generations of Indians who undertook the challenge of mastering these 
unfamiliar methods of scholarship did so under the patronage and auspices of the British 
themselves; thus they were hardly in a position to challenge any of the conclusions being 
produced. Most of those who did submit to such authority were completely co-opted by 
the power of European intellectual prowess or dependent on the patronage of Euro¬ 
pean institutions, and so accepted the new version of things unquestioningly. For those 
who were disposed to critique the colonial version, however, but who were outside the 
pale of mainstream facilities, the new unfamiliar disciplines such as archaeology and 
linguistics seemed formidable. This must have created a deep sense of frustration—espe¬ 
cially for religious Hindu intellectuals. After all, if die Vedas were being shown as not 
even accurate with regards to mundane, verifiable, historical, and temporal matters such 
as the chronology and homeland of the Aryans, why should they be trusted as reposi¬ 
tories of ontological knowledge? We can recall Jones’s and Maurice’s parallel concerns 
regarding Old Testament historicity when they encountered Indian sources of knowl¬ 
edge (with, in this earlier period, Europe on the defensive): “Either the first chapters of 
Genesis . . . are true, or the whole Fabrick of our national religion is wrong” (Jones 
1788, 255), and “arguments principally founded on the high assumptions of the Brah¬ 
mins . . . could their extravagant claims be substantiated, have a direct tendency to over¬ 
turn the Mosaic system, and, with it, Christianity” (Maurice [1812] 1984, 22-23). 

Similar concerns are evident whenever any traditional society encounters moder¬ 
nity. In nineteenth-century Bengal, one can sense the tension involved in maintain¬ 
ing both faith in scriptural validity and intellectual integrity in the Sri Krsna Samhitd. 
This book was written in 1879 by Bhaktivinode Thakur, a High Court judge in 
Jagganath Puri and father of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, the founder of the 
Gaudiya Math of the Chaitanya sampradaya that was to become an influential sect in 
eastern India and Vrindavan. Bhaktivinode’s reaction to the Aryan invasion theory, 
as outlined by Shukavak Das (1996-97), is the earliest orthodox Hindu perspective 
on Shastric historicism that I have uncovered. 4 Unable to refute the historical formu¬ 
lations of European scholarship, Bhaktivinode adopted the tools of modern critical 
scholarship and, citing Western authorities such as Wilford, Pratt, Playfair, and Davis, 
at least nominally accepted the proposition that the Aryans had indeed entered India 
from the Northwest (although he negotiated with reason and argument his own date 
of 4463 B.C.E. for their arrival). However, Bhaktivinode did not allow this historicization 
to undermine the transcendence of the Vedic (and, more specifically, the Vaisnava 
Bhagavata) dharma. 

54 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

In the introduction to the Krsna Samhitd, Bhaktivinode states that scripture is of two 
types: arthaprada, knowledge which deals with phenomenal matters such as history, phi¬ 
lology, linguistics, anthropology and archaeology, and so on; and paramarthaprada, knowl¬ 
edge that deals with transcendence. According to Bhaktivinode, arthaprada, even though 
derived from the sacred scripture, is answerable to human scrutiny and analysis and 
therefore can be adjusted and corrected according to time and place. Historical details 
are negotiable. Paramarthaprada, in contrast, is inaccessible to human reason. It is tran¬ 
scendent and beyond the purview of human interpretation and speculation (although 
realizable by the direct perception of the soul). 

Bhaktivinode, in line with many other Hindu reformists of his day, concluded that 
much in the sastras is aimed at attracting the neophyte religious consciousness by means 
of superhuman stories and fantastic time calculations. In nineteenth-century British Ben¬ 
gal, however, such accounts, alienated many of die more intellectual and westernized 
urban Bengalis from their religious traditions. The result was the creation of a spiritu¬ 
ally disenfranchised Hindu intelligentsia whose intellectual needs made them vulner¬ 
able to modern, Western ideas and who were likely to be dismissive of traditional reli¬ 
gious perspectives. This was Bhaktivinode’s target group. To attract the minds of this 
educated but disoriented class to the paramarthaprada essence of the sastra, he was quite 
willing to utilize critical analysis to negotiate the arthaprada portions, such as the ques¬ 
tion of Aryan origins, in accordance with the intellectually authoritative sources in his 
day that were at his disposal. If the times were dominated by European methodologies 
such as linguistics and archaeology, then Bhakivinode had no difficulty adopting these 
methods and the conclusions they produced in order not to alienate those influenced 
by this type of rationalism. As a spiritual leader, his concern was to retain his contem¬ 
poraries within the Vedic fold—specifically the Krsna-centered realm of the Chaitanya 
tradition—while simultaneously encouraging them to engage intellectually with Western 
critical thought. 

As for his more traditional-minded colleagues, Bhaktivinode could only appeal to 
them to try and understand the spirit of his historical formulations: 

With folded hands I humbly submit to my respected readers, who hold traditional views, 
that where my analysis opposes their long held beliefs, they should understand that . . . 
what I have said about dharma applies to everyone, but with regard to matters which are 
secondary to dharma, my conclusions are meant to produce benefits in the form of intel¬ 
lectual clarification only for qualified specialists. All the subjects which 1 have outlined in 
the Introduction concerning time and history are based on the logical analysis of sastra, 
and whether one accepts them or not does not affect the spiritual conclusions. History 
and time are phenomenal subject matters and when they are analyzed according to sound 
reasoning much good can be done for India. (Quoted in Shukavak Das, 1996-97, 139) 

In this way, Bhaktivinode salvaged what he considered to be the essential aspects of the 
Vedic and Bhagavata tradition from the firing line of any potentially embarrassing dis¬ 
coveries and conclusions of modern historical research. His absolute transcendence (the 
saguna aspect of Sri Krsna) could then reside securely out of harm’s way, safe from is¬ 
sues of historicity. Bhaktivinode did, however, invite future scholars to reexamine and 
improve the external, historical part of his formulations, such as the Aryan invasion, 
when developments in the appropriate fields permitted. 

Early Indian Responses 55 

It took time for Indian scholars to adopt and learn the methods of Western critical 
scholarship to the point where they felt comfortable enough to actually challenge the 
status quo. The first outright voices of opposition against the Aryan invasion theory 
were not raised until the end of the nineteenth century. They were inaugurated by promi¬ 
nent religious figures, whose discourses were in direct political and religious response 
to the hegemony of British intellectual power, which was portrayed as untrustworthy in 
the face of Vedic sabda pramana ‘scriptural evidence'. In 1882, Dayananda Saraswati, 
founder of the Arya Samaj, protested: 

In the face of these Vedic authorities how can sensible people believe in the imaginary 
tales of the foreigners ... no Sanskrit book or history records that the Aryas came here 
from Iran, and defeating the inhabitants of the country in battles, drove them away and 
proclaimed themselves the rulers of the country. How can then the writings of foreigners 
be worth believing in the teeth of this testimony? (266) 

Elsewhere Dayananda drew on a literal reading of the Mahabharata to claim that “the 
Aryas were the sovereign rulers of the whole earth” (329). But he did make some efforts 
to familiarize himself with European scholarship and, in the 1860s, employed a Bengali 
to read him Muller’s translation of the Rgveda. His choice of Tibet as the homeland of 
the Aryans reflected the preference of Europeans such as Kant and Herder. Influenced 
by the Orientalist critique in ways that partially paralleled (from an Aryan perspective) 
the neo-Saivism of the South, his Samaj was dedicated to reestablishing the pristine 
monotheistic purity of the early Aryan Vedic literature, and jettisoning the later polytheistic 
accretions, superstitions, and corruptions drat had accrued during the Puranic period. 

The Theosophists, who established their principal ashram in South India, retained 
their belief in an Indian homeland well after such a position had long been considered 
passe in Europe. Olcott, (1881), as noted earlier, considered that “the Brahmins have 
their own chronology and no one has the means of proving that their calculations are 
exaggerated. . . . We Europeans .. . have a right to more than suspect that India 8,000 
years ago sent out a colony of emigrants” (124). Blavatsky ([1892] 1975) likewise stated 
that “it has now become very clear to me that the Scandinavian, Egyptian, Greek, Cen¬ 
tral Asiatic, German and Slavonic gods were nearly all . . . born in prehistoric India” 
(608). She also attempted to make a case for the antiquity of the Vedas. Juxtaposing 
“the least age we can accord to the human race,” namely, 240,000 years, with Max Muller’s 
statements that the Veda represents “the very infancy of humanity, and when hardly 
out of its cradle,” she quips that “it really seems the duty of the eminent Sanskritist and 
Lecturer on Comparative Theology to get out of this dilemma. Either the Rig-Veda hymns 
were composed but 3,000 years ago, and, therefore, cannot be expressed in the ‘lan¬ 
guage of childhood’ ... or we have to ascribe to them an immense antiquity in order to 
carry them back to the days of human mental antiquity” (Blavatsky n.d., 47). 

Aurobindo (1971), who also kept abreast of European knowledge, expressed his 
misgivings some years later: “The indications in the Veda on which this theory of a 
recent Aryan invasion is built are very scanty in quantity and uncertain in signifi¬ 
cance. There is no actual mention of any such invasion. The distinction between Aryan 
and un-Aryan on which so much has been built seems on the mass of evidence to 
indicate a cultural rather than a racial difference” (24). This absence of any mention 
in the Vedas of an external origin for the Aryans is the single most repeated objection 

56 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

raised by Indian scholars—an issue to which I will return shortly. Vivekananda, (1970— 
73), the first prominent Indian religious figure in the modern period to ignore the 
prohibition of the sastra against crossing the seas, and the first to address an audi¬ 
ence in the West, not only rejected the Aryan invasion theory but also issued a rally¬ 
ing cry to scholars among his countrymen to oppose it: 

And what your European pundits say about die Aryans swooping down from some for¬ 
eign land, snatching away the lands of the aborigines and setding in India by exterminat¬ 
ing them, is all pure nonsense, foolish talk! In what Veda, in what Sukta do you find that 
the Aryans came into India from a foreign country? Where do you get the idea that they 
slaughtered the wild aborigines? What do you gain by talking such nonsense? Strange 
that our Indian scholars, too, say amen to them; and all these monstrous lies are being 
taught to our boys! . . . Whenever the Europeans find an opportunity, they exterminate 
the aborigines and settle down in ease and comfort on their lands; and therefore they 
think the Aryans must have done the same! . . . But where is your proof? Guess work? 
Then keep your fanciful ideas to yourself. I strongly protested against these ideas at the 
Paris Congress. I have been talking with the Indian and European savants on the sub¬ 
ject, and hope to raise many objections to this theory in detail, when time permits. And 
this I say to you—to our pundits—also, “You are learned men, hunt up your old books 
and scriptures, please, and draw your own conclusions.” (5:534-535) 

After Vivekananda’s death, some notes were found among his papers containing forty- 
two points jotted down for a book he intended to write, ten of which dealt with issues 
connected to the Aryan invasion theory. However, it remained for others to take up 
Vivekananda’s stirring call to arms. 


We have seen how Aryanism was coopted in all sorts of contradictory, but not necessary 
conflicting, ways by missionaries, colonialists, Orientalists, anthropologists, nationalists, 
and all manner of other ideologues in Europe throughout the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries. The Aryan connection was configured in support of just about any agenda. A 
parallel situation holds true for India. Politically, in terms of its European connections, 
Aryanism was welcomed by some as evidence of equality between the colonizers and the 
colonized—and could even be invoked to elicit assistance from tire English Aryan brethren. 
In other discourses, it was heralded as proof of the spiritual superiority of the Hindu Aryans 
in comparison to the materialistic Western Aryans. In terms of its ramifications in die Indian 
political scene, it was deferred to as proof of Brahmanical Aryan superiority over the rest of 
the subcontinent or, contrarily, as proof of Brahmanical Aryan exploitation of the same. 

From religious perspectives, however, the theory was more fundamentally troubling 
at least from Brahmanical viewpoints. It completely undermined traditional concepts of 
history and portrayed the wise Aryans of yore as little better than marauding barbar¬ 
ians. It was on the basis of the scriptural evidence that the first voices challenging the 
basis of the theory—as opposed to coopting it for ideological purposes—were raised. 
Suspicion of the theory based on scriptural testimony—or lack thereof—remains an ex¬ 
plicit or implicit factor in much Indigenous Aryan discourse. The science known as 
philology in the West, was to provide the terrain for the first forays by Indian Sanskritists 
against the conclusions of their Western peers. It is to this that I turn next. 


Vedic Philology 

Traditional Indian scholars immediately became suspicious of Western philology once 
it began to conflict with traditional conceptions of the Veda and its origins. It was pri¬ 
marily through philology that the Indian homeland proposed by the earlier romantic 
school was rejected by most scholars. 1 In 1909, the Imperial Gazeteer of India noted that 
“the uniformity of the Indo-Aryan type can be accounted for only by one of two hypoth¬ 
eses—that its members were indigenous to the Punjab, or that they entered India. . . . 
the opinion of European scholars ... is unanimous in favour of the foreign origin of 
the Indo-Aryans. The arguments appealed to are mainly philological” (300). 

Unlike comparative linguistics and archaeology, which were European innovations 
and alien to Brahmanical thought, Vedic philology was an area much closer to tradi¬ 
tional Indian epistemological modes, since it required an expertise in Sanskrit and 
involved the study of familiar traditional texts; Indian scholars were much better equipped, 
in this discipline, to scrutinize the scholarship of Western savants. Although himself a 
latecomer to Sanskrit studies, Aurobindo (1971) considered many of the conclusions of 
the comparative philology of his day, despite containing “much that is useful,” to be 
ultimately “an interesting diversion for an imaginative mind,” the fruits more of “an 
ingenious play of the poetic imagination” (26). Aurobindo is reservedly appreciative but 
not co-opted or intimidated: 

Modern Philology is an immense advance on anything we have had before the nineteenth 
century. It has introduced a spirit of order and method in place of mere phantasy; it has 
given us more correct ideas of the morphology of language and of what is or is not pos¬ 
sible in etymology. It has established a few rules which govern the detrition of language 
and guide us in the identification of the same word or of related words as they appear in 
the changes of different but kindred tongues. Here, however, its achievements cease. The 


58 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

high hopes which attended its birth have not been fulfilled by its maturity. There is, in 
fact, no real certainty as yet in the obtained results of Philology. . . . Yesterday we were all 
convinced that Varuna was identical with Ouranos, the Greek heaven; today this identity 
is denounced to us as a philological error; tomorrow it may be rehabilitated. . . . We have 
to recognize in fact that European scholarship in its dealings with the Veda has derived 
an excessive prestige from its association in the popular mind with the march of Euro¬ 
pean science. The truth is that there is an enormous gulf between the patient, scrupulous 
and exact physical sciences and these other brilliant, but immature branches of learning 
upon which Vedic scholarship relies. (27-28) 

Once the seemingly infallible facade of Oriental scholarship had been challenged by 
the opposition of prominent religious figures, one of the first attempts to refute the 
Aryan invasion theory by engaging the actual evidence at stake with reason and argu¬ 
ment was published in 1884 in the Theosophist. The contributor, Ramchandra Rao (1880), 
voices his incredulity at the opinions of" his day: 

We are told that the Aryan family, which lived in Central Asia, were a civilized people; 
and that their religion was that of the Vedas. They had chariots, horses, ships, boats, 
towns and fortified places before the separation took place. They were therefore not no¬ 
mads. Max Muller adds that the younger branch left first and emigrated into Europe. . . . 
the oldest quitted its ancestral abode last of all, for a new home in India. The inference 
to be drawn, then, is that the old home was abandoned by every soul, and left to become 
a dreary and a desolate place as we now find it. . . . the efforts of philology . . . can hardly 
succeed in metamorphosing a vague theory into real Simon Pure, but must remain as 
they are—a hollow farce. (306-307) 

In his opinion, the whole Aryan invasion theory was “nothing but a varnished tale, 
utterly undeserving of the name of traditional history” (305). 

Similar misgivings were voiced in 1901 by one Aghorechandra Chattopadhyaya in 
Calcutta. In this book, one can sense the author seriously struggling to make sense of 
the conclusions of Western scholarship, yet unable to conceal his own bewilderment at 
the theories that he was encountering; “Whatever might be the credibility the scholars 
are blessed with, we can hardly reconcile ourselves with such an easy faith on a matter 
like this.” Commenting on the spectacular achievements of the subbranches of the Indo- 
European family, such as the Vedic Indians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians, he won¬ 
dered, with remarkable acumen for his time and sources, how the main trunk of the 
Indo-European tree could have produced such conspicuous fruits that survived for mil¬ 
lennia, and yet leave no trace of itself: 

While the major branches of the main trunk gathered strength, looked healthy, and 
spread far and wide, the latter, at the same time, withered, shriveled, and failed to show 
any indication of life and vitality and disappeared from sight and was lost for ever with¬ 
out leaving any trace or mark that might lead to its identification, nor could any fossil 
remains of it be detected or found out, so that it could be inferred that such a society 
in such a stage of development existed at one time, on the surface of the earth. ... A 
story so imperfect in every important respect is put forward seriously for people to be¬ 
lieve in and accept as an authentic account of the ancient history of the Indo-European 
race. (59) 

Chattopadhyaya also struggles to make sense of what appeared to him to be the con¬ 
tradictory proposals that the Indo-Europeans were wandering nomads and yet were 

Vedic Philology 59 

held to have originated from a specific abode, and that they were primitive tribesmen 
and yet were able to formulate and utilize a language as intricate and complex as Indo- 
European. Albeit on a rudimentary level, some Indian scholars were beginning to 
pay closer attention to the specifics underlying the philological theories and specula¬ 
tions of Western scholars. There were two specific philological areas drat were fundamental 
in asserting an Aryan invasion of India: the racial evidence, involving the distinc¬ 
tions between the Aryas and their enemies the Dasas, and the geographic parameters 
of the texts themselves. 

The Racial Evidence 

The first prominent note of discord between traditional exegesis and Western scholar¬ 
ship was sounded because of the lack of explicit mention, in the Vedic texts, of a for¬ 
eign homeland of the Aryan people. As mentioned previously, this conspicuous silence 
had been noted even by nineteenth-cenmry Western scholars (e.g., Elphinstone 1841). 
The absence of any mention of external Aryan origins in traditional Sanskrit sources is, 
to this day, perhaps the single most prominent objection raised by much of the schol¬ 
arship claiming indigenous origins for the Aryan culture. This consideration was summed 
up succinctly by Srinivas Iyengar in 1914: 

The Aryas do not refer to any foreign country as their original home, do not refer to 
themselves as coming from beyond India, do not name any place in India after the names 
of places in their original land as conquerors and colonizers always do, but speak of them¬ 
selves exactly as sons of the soil would do. If they had been foreign invaders, it would 
have been humanly impossible for all memory of such invasion to have been utterly 
obliterated from memory in such a short time as represents the differences between the 
Vedic and Avestan dialects. (79-80) 

A few Western scholars had tried to find some oblique references or reminiscences of 
the pre-Vedic people during their trajectory over central Asia. In 1913, Hillebrandt found 
reason to suppose that the Hariyupiya in RV 6.27.8 “is the Ariob or Haliab, a source 
river of the Kurum” (49). Other attempts to find traces of the Indo-Aryans in Iran and 
other places outside of India will be discussed in chapter 7. One should also note that 
several other Indo-European cultures, such as those of the Greeks and Scandinavians, 
also preserve no mention of their migrations into their historical territories, yet we know 
they were immigrants there at some point. That a historical event is lost from the collec¬ 
tive consciousness of a people due to the passage of time, does not indicate that the 
event never took place. For the present purposes, the fact that the Vedas themselves 
make no mention of any Aryan invasion or immigration reveals a major epistemologi¬ 
cal concern in this debate. Scriptural testimony, sabda pramana, in varying degrees, still 
holds a preeminent status as an authoritative source of historical information in the 
view of many Indian scholars. 

Once the warning alarm had been raised regarding the lack of explicit mention of 
Aryan invasions, scholars began to look more carefully at the implicit evidence Western 
scholars had brought forward in this regard. It was the racial interpretations imposed 
on various Vedic passages, particularly those that referred to the battles between the 
Aryans and their foes, the Dasas or Dasyus, that aroused the indignation of Indian 

60 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

scholars. Aurobindo (1971), again, was an outspoken, witty, and penetrating forerunner 
in this regard: 

It is urged that the Dasyus are described as black of skin and noseless in opposition to 
the fair and high-nosed Aryans. But the former distinction is certainly applied to the Aryan 
Gods and the Dasa Powers in the sense of light and darkness, and the word anasah does 
not mean noseless. Even if it did, it would be wholly inapplicable to the Dravidian races; 
for the Southern nose can give as good an account of itself as any “Aryan” proboscis in 
the North. (24) 

The racial interpretations of the Vedic passages were inaugurated by Max Muller, who 
is both the hero and the archfiend of the Indigenous Aryan school. Factually: “The first 
effort to find direct evidence of the physical features of the Indian aborigines in the 
Sanskrit texts dating from the time of the Big Bang that brought Indian civilization into 
existence . . . boiled down to a matter of noses” (Trautmann, 1997, 197). 

Muller (1854b), searching for clues in the Rgveda that might provide evidence of 
this “big bang,” decided: “The only expression that might be interpreted in this way is 
that of ‘susipra,’ as applied to Aryan gods. It means ‘with a beautiful nose’ . . . The 
Dasa or barbarian is also called vrsasipra in the Veda, which seems to mean goat or 
bull-nosed, and the ‘Anasas’ enemies whom Indra killed with his weapon (RV V,29,10) 
are probably meant for noseless . . . people”. (346). Muller later recanted his interpre¬ 
tation of the word s'ipra, so the evidence was reduced to a solitary word, andsa, in a 
single passage. This sole possible description of the Dasa nose, however, like Pinocchio’s 
nasal organ, was to have an expanded life of its own. By 1891, H. H. Risley, who was 
compiling his ethnological material on Indian tribes and castes, was able to say that 
“no one can have glanced at the Vedic accounts of the Aryan advance without being 
struck by the frequent references to the noses of the people whom the Aryans found in 
possession of the plains of India [whom] they spoke of as ‘the noseless ones’” (249- 
250; my italics). The solitary nasal reference had suddenly become a frequent one. 

McDonnell and Keith (1967), while at least acknowledging that both the pada text and 
Sayana, the oldest existing commentator on the Rgveda, had interpreted the word andsa 
as meaning the equally valid alternative translation ‘without face’ (which is how Geldner 
and Grassman had accepted it) as opposed to ‘without nose’, nonetheless further cemented 
Muller’s identification with their approval. As far as they were concerned, it “would ac¬ 
cord well with the flat-nosed aborigines of the Dravidian type, whose language still per¬ 
sists among the Brahuis, who are found in the North-West” (348). Muller had construed 
the word as a-nasa, ‘without nose’, as opposed to an-as ‘without mouth or face’, as Sayana 
had construed it. The word occurs in a passage where the Dasyus are also described as 
mr dhavacah, which is glossed by Sayana with himsitavagindriyan ‘having defective organs 
of speech’. This could reasonably simply refer to people considered rude or uncultivated 
barbarians by their Aryan detractors rather than to any racial term. However, the quest for 
textual evidence of the Aryan invasion caused the racial interpretation to be favored, and 
it is this interpretation that has continued to surface up to the present day: “The Vedas 
recognize a dichotomy between the Indo-Aryans and their dark-skinned enemies, tire Dasa, 
who are on one occasion described as ‘nose-less,’ which has generally been interpreted as 
a pejorative reference to Dravidian physical features” (Mallory 1989, 45). 

Vedic Philology 61 

Srinivas Iyengar, in 1914, was not convinced by this type of “great scientific hardi¬ 

One solitary word anasa applied to the Dasyu has been quoted by . . . Max Muller . . . 
among numerous writers, to prove that the Dasyus were a flat nosed people, and that, 
therefore, by contrast, the Aryas were straight-nosed. Indian commentators have explained 
this word to mean an-asa, mouthless, devoid of fair speech. ... to hang such a weight of 
inference as the invasion and conquest of India by the straight nosed Aryans on the solitary 
word andsa does certainly seem not a very reasonable procedure. (6) 

Iyengar is equally unimpressed by the racial interpretations of other passages in the 

Veda that had been given by Western scholars: 

The only other trace of racial reference in the Vedic hymns is the occurrence of two words, 
one krishna in seven passages and the other asikini in two passages. One of the meanings 
of these two words is “black,” but in all the passages, the words have been interpreted as 
referring to black demons, black clouds, a demon whose name was Krishna, or the pow¬ 
ers of darkness. Hence to take this as evidence to prove that the invading Aryans were 
fair-complexioned as they referred to their demon foes or perhaps human enemies as 
black is again to stretch many points in behalf of a preconceived dreory. (6-7) 

Iyengar is well worth quoting at length, because his arguments are well researched and 


The word . . . Arya occurs about 33 times iin the Rgveda]. . . . the word Ddsa occurs 
about 50 times and Dasyu about 70 times. . . . The word Arya occurs 22 times in hymns 
to Indra and six times in hymns to Agni, and Dasa 50 times in hymns to Indra and twice 
in hymns to Agni, and Dasyu 50 times in hymns to Indra and 9 times in hymns to Agni. 
The constant association of these words with Indra clearly proves that Arya meant a 
worshipper of Indra (and Agni). . . . The Aryas offered oblations to Indra. . . . The Dasyus 
or Dasas were those who were opposed to the Indra Agni cult and are explicitly described 
thus in those passages where human Dasyus are clearly meant. They are avrata without 
(the Arya) rites, anyavrata of different rites, ayajavdna, non-sacrificers, abrahma without 
prayers, also not having Brahmana priests, anrichah without Riks, brahmadvisha, haters 
of prayers to Brahmanas, and anindra without Indra, despisers of Indra. They pour no 
milky draughts, they heat no cauldron. They give no gifts to the Brahmana. . . . Their 
worship was but enchantment, sorcery, unlike the sacred law of fire-worship, wiles and 
magic. In all this we hear but the echo of a war of rite with rite, cult with cult and not one 
of race with race. (5-6) 2 

Others have voiced just as penetrating critiques: 

In the attempt to ransack the latter-day Sanskrit texts for proofs of Nordic characteris¬ 
tics, ... we forget that if in latter day Sanskrit texts sentences such as “Gaura [white, 
yellowish], . . . pingala [reddish brown, tawny, golden], kapilkesa [brown or tawny hair]” 
are to be found in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya (V. 1. 115) and if Manu has said that a Brahmana 
should not marry a girl with pingala hair (38) there are other sentences in previous ages 
which contradict the strength of these characteristics. But with the help of these two 
sentences attempt is being made to prove the existence of Nordic characteristics amongst 
the Indian people. . . . The God Rudra is described to have possessed golden hair . . . 
yet we cannot make a Nordic viking out of him, as he had brown-hued skin-colour and 
golden-coloured arm. . . . Surely we cannot take the god Rudra as a specimen of race- 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

miscegenation. ... we beg to state that these allegories should be accepted as poetic 
fancies. They cannot be used as scientific data, for anthropological purpose. (Dutta 1936, 

Interestingly, almost a full century after Indian scholars started objecting to the racial 
interpretations imposed on die Arya-Dasa dichotomy, Western scholars have recently 
also started drawing attention to nineteenth-century philological excesses. Levitt (1989), 
in his analysis of the word andsa, points out that even if it does mean ‘noseless’, an 
equivalent term in the language of the Bhil tribe is used in an ethical as opposed to a 
racial sense to indicate someone who is untrustworthy. Schetelich (1990), in turn, has 
analyzed the three occurrences of the phrase Icrsna (or asikni) tvac used in conjunction 
with the dasyu, which has generally been translated as ‘dark skin’ (247). Her conclu¬ 
sion is that the word is a symbolic expression for darkness. Witzel comments on the 
same term that “while it would be easy to assume reference to skin colour, this would 
go against the spirit of the hymns: for Vedic poets, black always signifies evil, and any 
other meaning would be secondary in these contexts” (1995b, 325, fn). These realiza¬ 
tions can be found in any number of Indigenous Aryan publications stretching back for 
at least a century. Trautmann (1997), in his analysis of the development of, and inter¬ 
action between, ethnology and philology in the nineteenth century, finds his own experi¬ 
ment of subjecting the evidence for the racial interpretation of Indian civilization to a 
minimizing reading revealed just how soft that evidence is and the amount of overreading 
upon which it is based (213). He points out that the racial theory of Indian civilization 
is the product of the late nineteenth century, when the relations between whites and 
other ethnic groups in the Anglo-Saxon world were being reconfigured with ideological 
support from a spate of racial essentialism (208). Trautmann concludes: “That the racial 
theory of Indian civilization still lingers is a miracle of faith. Is it not time we did away 
with it?” (215). 

Hock (1999b) suggests that the reluctance to review this racial material is due to the 
failure to live up to the scholarly ideals of constantly reexamining the evidence. He, too, 
undertook a similar exercise by extracting all the passages that Geldner had construed 
in a racial sense in his translation of the Rgveda and found them all to be either mis¬ 
translated or, at least, open to alternative nonracial interpretation. The reason racial 
readings were preferred was due to the “quasi-scientific attempts to provide a justifica¬ 
tion for ‘racially’ based European imperialism. . . . Moreover, the British take-over of 
India seemed to provide a perfect parallel to the assumed take-over of prehistoric India 
by the invading Indo-Aryans” (1999b, 168). 

It seems fair to note, however, that for over a century many Indian scholars have 
been aware of, and objected to, such biased readings all along: “Thus ‘Arya’ moved 
from the Vedic literature to the European political arena. . . . They thought that as the 
Vedic people were the most cultured people of antiquity, they cannot but be ‘white men,’ 
no matter whether blonde or brunette, who conquered the noseless dark people of the 
Indus Valley” (Chandra 1980, 123). 3 B. R. Ambedkar (1946) delivered a particularly 
scathing critique of the whole enterprise of attempting to establish invasions on the 
basis of racial evidence in the Rgveda and concludes: 

Why has the theory failed? . . . The theory of an invasion is an invention. This invention 
is necessary because of a gratuitous assumption which underlies the Western theory. The 

Vedic Philology 63 

. . . assumption is that the Aryans were a superior race. This theory has its origin in the 
belief that the Aryans are a European race and as a European race it is presumed to be 
superior to the Asiatic ones. . . . Knowing that nothing can prove the superiority of the 
Aryan race better than invasion and conquest of the native races, the Western writers 
have proceeded to invent the story of die invasion of India by the Aryans, and the con¬ 
quest by them of the Dasas and Dasyus. . . . The originators of the Aryan race theory are 
so eager to establish their case that they have no patience to see what absurdities they 
land themselves in. They start on a mission to prove what they want to prove and do not 
hesitate to pick such evidence from the Vedas as diey think is good for them. (72—7.5) 

Of course, despite offering elaborate and, in places, well-argued and legitimate refuta¬ 
tions of the racial evidence along some of the lines outlined here, Ambedkar’s research 
was not without a clear, and philologically questionable, agenda of its own, as was noted 
in chapter 2. But his point here holds good. 

Philologists are not alone in being unable to identify any compelling racial traits in 
the Rgvedad Present-day archaeologists also concur that there are no innovations in the 
skeletal remains of humans found in the subcontinent that necessarily correspond to 
an incoming group of people that are in any way distinct from a separate indigenous 
group of people. This evidence will be discussed in chapter 11. In terms of the literary 
material, in addition to the so-called racial references, another body of philological evi¬ 
dence has been very influential in supporting the position that the Aryans were immi¬ 
grants into the subcontinent. This is based on the geographic boundaries alluded to in 
the texts themselves. 

The West-toEast Geographic Shift in Sanskrit Texts 

In 1860, Muir, in his arguments raised against the consideration of the Aryans being 
indigenous to India that was still lingering in his time, was the first scholar to attempt 
to argue extensively that the Sanskrit texts themselves could be used to demonstrate an 
Aryan invasion of India. Although beginning his thesis with a “candid admission” that 
“none of the Sanskrit books, not even the most ancient, contain any distinct reference 
or allusion to the foreign origin of the Indians” (Muir [1860] 1874, 322), he developed 
his case by documenting how the geographic horizons referred to in progressively later 
Sanskrit texts expand from the northwest part of the subcontinent to the eastern and, 
eventually, the southern parts. From this perspective, this textual awareness of increas¬ 
ing portions of India corresponded to the actual physical expansion of the Indo-Aryans 
themselves into India from the Northwest and dien across the subcontinent. 

Muir’s arguments began with the Rgveda, which refers to the Kubha river in 
Afghanistan and is firmly situated in the Punjab between the Indus and the Sarasvatl: 
“The oldest hymns of the Veda show us the Arian people still dwelling . . . between dre 
Cabul river and the Indus” (339). 3 However, “the Ganga and the Yamuna are only 
mentioned once in the tenth book,” and the southern Vindhya mountain range is not 
mentioned at all (347). This suggested to him drat the Aryans had just begun to move 
east by the time they were compiling the later books of the Rgveda (such as the tenth). 
Muir fortified his case by interpreting the conflict between the Aryas and the Dasyus in 
the racial manner discussed above, and then quoted a passage from the Satapatha 

64 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Brahmana wherein “the gradual advance of the Aryas with their Brahmanical worship, 
from the banks of the Sarasvati eastward to those of the Sadanira, and afterwards be¬ 
yond that stream, is . . . distinctly indicated” (403). 6 Finally, the Ramayana, with the 
conquest of Lanka, completed the Aryan expansion across tire Vindhyas and on to the 
South. The fabulous creatures and beings described in this Epic are representations of 
the Aryan encounter with the aborigines—a proposal Muir bolstered with Ellis and 
Campbell’s discovery that the Dravidian languages belonged to a different family from 
those of the North. Other geographic references have been brought forward since Muir 
to solidify this basic line of argument. 

Muir’s logic, then, is that certain parts of India are not mentioned in the oldest part 
of the Rgveda because the Aryans had not yet been to those parts. This argument can 
be used both ways, however. If it is to be deduced that because the Rgveda does not 
explicitly mention the East and the South of India, then the Aryans had not yet been or 
gone to these regions, then the same parallel logic cannot be denied for the absence of 
any explicit mention of the Caspian Sea or its environs in the Rgveda: one would be 
hard-pressed to use these particular grounds to disallow the oft-cited claim that the Aryans 
had equally not been, or come from, those regions either, since they too are not explic¬ 
itly mentioned in any texts. If Vedic geography is silent regarding eastern and southern 
Indian landscapes and peoples, it is arguably also ignorant of distant, external north¬ 
western landscapes and peoples. From this perspective, the two lacunae, both merely 
argumenti ex silentio, seem to negate each other in terms of providing solid evidence of 
the migrations of these people. 

One line of argument attempts to brush off these geographic parameters by stating 
that all that the evidence indicates, without making assumptions, is that die composers 
of the hymns, who were certainly not cartographers, happened to make some peripheral 
references to the immediate areas where they lived and happened to make no mention 
of other places that were irrelevant to their hymns. Some scholars do not feel obliged to 
conclude front this that the Indo-Aryans were ignorant of other places because they had 
not yet arrived farther east or south in the subcontinent. The composers of later Vedic 
texts, and of the Epics and Puranas, happened to live elsewhere and therefore described 
different locations connected with the themes and events they were concerned with: 

What does it prove at best! It only proves that the people who sang the hymns lived in 
the land of the “Five (or Seven) Rivers”; nothing beyond that. It does not, for instance, 
prove that the land beyond the “Five Rivers” was not inhabited. ... [In the] Ydjurvedic 
tradition . . . Yajnavalkya [was] an inhabitant of Mithild, which is very far removed from 
the “Five Rivers”. ... If then, at least one of the Vedic Seers inhabited the Eastern land 
of Mithila, and some inhabited the land of the Five Rivers—what definite conclusion can 
that lead to? (Jha 1940, 2) 

This type of dismissal, however, needs to address the detailed philological work of Witzel 
(1989) who not only has excavated tire geographic horizons known to each separate 
stratum of the Vedic texts but also has attempted to identify the different waves of tribal 
units that inaugurated the expansions and even the dialectal variants and archaeologi¬ 
cal cultures that accompanied the spread. He, too, notes that the Rgveda is limited to 
the Punjab and it surroundings, while the Atharvaveda knows all of the North Indian 
plains of the Ganges-Yamuna doab of Uttar Pradesh. The late Brahmana texts, in con- 

Vedic Philology 65 

trast, “suddenly have a geographical horizon reaching from Gandhara (and beyond) to 
Anga, from the Himalaya in the North to Vidarbha, Andhra in the South, and includ¬ 
ing the South-Eastern tribes” (Witzel 1989, 244). There does seem to be significant evi¬ 
dence to accept a movement across the subcontinent from the Punjab that cannot sim¬ 
ply be brushed aside. 

Curzon (1855), however, who, as I have noted, believed that the Indo-European home¬ 
land was in India, was not prepared to allow anything more than just this: 

Is it legitimate ... to infer that because the Aryans early spread to the South . . . and 
extended themselves over the peninsula, they also originally invaded, from some unknown 
region and conquered India itself? If so, the same argument might be applied to the origin 
and spread of the Romans, who might be presumed to have invaded Italy from some 
external unknown region, because they early spread their conquests to the south. . . . But 
we know from authentic history that the Romans arose from one city and region in Italy: 
that . . . they gradually extended themselves over and subjugated those territories which 
subsequently formed one vast empire. (189) 

Despite such objections, Muir’s interpretation prevailed and is still a prominent sup¬ 
port of the Aryan migration position: “The known historical expansion of Indie from 
north to both the east and the south, gives us every reason to deny the Indo-Aryans a 
prior home in those regions” (Mallory 1989, 44, my italics). 7 Needless to say, Indig¬ 
enous Aryanists see things in the same vein as Curzon: “We may notice a greater ac¬ 
quaintance with Central and Eastern India in the latter [texts], showing perhaps the 
shift of the seat of Vedic Civilization more inland. But such a shift would be a matter 
of internal history and could have no bearing on the question of the Rigvedics hailing 
in 1500 b.c. from beyond the Afghanistan-Punjab complex” (Sethna 1992, 14). 

Just as this book is going to press, a new publication (Talageri, 2000) attempts to 
undermine these notions of a west-to-east spread of the Indo-Aryans in the subconti¬ 
nent based on the geographical parameters of the texts. Restricting his focus to the ten 
mandalas ‘books’ of the Rgveda, Talgeri establishes an internal chronology of this text 
consisting of four periods: Early (mandala 6, 3, and 7, in that order); Middle ( mandala 
4 and 2, in that order); Late ( mandala 5, 8, and 9, in that order), and Very Late (mandala 
10). He considers Mandala 1 to cover a period from pre-Middle (but post-Early) to the 
Very Late period. Talageri’s method involves establishing a relative chronology of the 
various composers of the hymns. If, for example, mandala A is composed by someone 
who is an ancestor of the composer of mandala B, or if the composer of mandala A is 
considered, in mandala B, to be a figure in the past, then Talageri assumes mandala A 
is older. He also considers the lineages of kings and rsis such that if mandala C refers 
to a contemporary king or rsi and mandala D refers to this same rsi or king as a figure 
in the past, he assumes mandala D to be older. 

He feels his ordering ( mandala 6, 3, 7, 4, 2, 5, 8, 9, and 10) is confirmed by the fact 
that the oldest mandala demonstrate the most rigid family structure—every verse in mandala 
6 is composed by members of one branch of one family of composers—while at the 
other end of the spectrum, the hymns, mandala 10 , being composed by rsis from almost 
every family, have the loosest family structure and contain a large number of hymns of 
unknown composition. He also notes that the hymns in the older mandalas of his schema 
which are composed by the descendants of an important or eponymous composer, are 
generally attributed to that ancestral composer, while in later mandalas, the hymns are 

66 The Quest for the Origin of Veiiic Culture 

attributed to the actual composer himself. He takes this development as further confir¬ 
mation of his ordering. 

The final step of this method is to examine the geographical horizons expressed in 
this chronological sequence. In mandala 6, the Aryans were settled in the region to the 
east of the SarasvatT, viz, in present-day Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Toward the end of 
the Early Period, mandalas 3 and 7, they had expanded westward into the Punjab, and 
by the Middle and Late Periods, the geographical horizons had spread westward as far 
as the southeastern parts of Afghanistan. In short, “the evidence of the Rigveda is so 
clear that it brooks no other conclusion except drat the Vedic Aryans expanded from 
the interior of India to the west and northwest” (123-24). 8 

While this version of dtings awaits a response from Witzel, we should outline the 
picture produced from the latter’s reading of the same texts. In terms of the internal 
ordering of the texts, Witzel (1995b) follows Oldenberg who as early as the nineteenth 
century had noted that the oldest mandalas, 2-7, are the collections of the clans of poets. 
Within this core, the mandalas are arranged according to the increasing number of hymns 
per book. Within each mandala, in turn, the hymns are ordered according to deity, 
with Agni placed first, followed by Indra, followed by the other gods. Then, within the 
sections for each deity, the hymns are arranged according to decreasing number of stan¬ 
zas per hymn. In case the number of stanzas in particular hymns are equal, the hymn 
with more syllables is placed first. In dais way, a hymn can be immediately found by its 
family, deity, and meter. 

Of course, this internal ordering need not correspond to chronology of composition 
(although it can be used to identify late additions if they disrupt this pattern). Witzel 
notes that “all we can say with confidence is that book 10, as such, is late but judgment 
must be exercised for each individual hymns. Some in book 8, sometimes even in book 
1 and 10, can be as early as the ‘family books’” (1995b, 310). In order to fine-tune the 
chronology of the hymns within the Rgveda, Witzel also accepts the internal relation¬ 
ship between the poets and kings to be decisive, and couples these individuals and the 
tribes with which they are connected with the geographical horizons of the texts that 
featute them; however, he produces a rather different picture from Talageri’s. 

Witzel (1995b) focuses his attention on the pahca jana, the five tribes of the Rgveda. 
He finds that four of them, the Yadu-Turvasa and the Anu-Druhya, are regarded as 
already settled in the Punjab at the time of the composition of the Vedic hymns with 
“only the dimmest recollection of their move into South Asia” (339). The Purus are the 
next to arrive on the scene, “although their movement into the subcontinent had also 
become a done deed by the time most of the Vedic hymns were composed” (339). They 
dominate the remainder of the “five people.” Meanwhile, Witzel sees a subsection of 
the Purus, the Bharatas, situated in Afghanistan, on the grounds that their leader, 
Divodasa, is fighting his enemy Sambara, who “was probably an aboriginal tribal chief 
in the mountainous Borderline zone” and is said to possess hill fortresses (332). 

After the defeat of Sambara, Witzel finds the Bharatas intruding into the subconti¬ 
nent where they defeat the Purus in the famous battle between the Bharata chief Sudas, 
a descendant of Divodasa, and the ten kings: “The entire book seven is a snapshot of 
history: the incursion of the Bharata into the Panjab from across the Sindhu, and their 
battle with the “Five Peoples’ and the Puru” (1 995b, 337). He sees the geographical 
referents of this battle hymn shift from west to east, beginning with the Bharata priest 

Vedic Philology 67 

Vasistha’s crossing of the Sindhu river, followed by the actual battle of the ten kings on 
the Parusni river (modern-day Ravi), and culminating with the Bharatas eventual arrival 
on the Yamuna river (335). Emerging victorious, the Bharatas then settle on the SarasvatT 
(which would appear to be a movement back to the west), and this area becomes “the 
heartland of South Asia,” considered in Rgveda 3.53.11 to be the center of the world 
(339). In short, where Indigenists would simply see strategic maneuverings backward 
and forward in battles between rival clans native to the North of the subcontinent itself, 
Witzel finds “successive waves of migrations,” resulting in frequent warfare and shift¬ 
ing alliances (337). 


The Rgvedic texts were read in the political context of nineteenth-century philology, which 
has been outlined in chapter 1. This certainly influenced the choice of possible inter¬ 
pretations placed on such words as anasa and on the battles of the Aryas and the Dasas. 
The racial interpretations extrapolated from the texts to support an Aryan migration 
have been justly challenged by both Indian and, albeit after the lag of a century, West¬ 
ern scholars. Their place in serious discussions of the Indo-Aryan problem is highly 

Geographically, however, the textual evidence for immigration is more persuasive. 
The sequence of texts does seem to suggest a movement of the Brahmanic geographical 
horizons from the Northwest to other parts of India. Nonetheless, the Indigenous re¬ 
sponse needs to be considered: the texts give no obvious indication of a movement into 
India itself. Indigenous Aryanists, on the whole, are prepared to accept a shift of popu¬ 
lation from the SarasvatT region eastward toward the Gangetic plain (with increasing 
contacts with the South) in the historical period. (As we shall see in chapter 7, this is 
sometimes correlated with the drying up of the SarasvatT and the eastern drift of dte 
Indus Valley sites from the Mature to the Late and post-Harappan period.) But they do 
not feel compelled to then project this into preconceived hypothetical movements into 
the subcontinent itself in the pre- and protohistoric period. 

It seems reasonable to accept that the Indo-Aryans spread into the east and south of 
the subcontinent from the Northwest. But to what extent can it be legitimately argued 
that they might have been indigenous to the Northwest itself? At this point, other dis¬ 
ciplines must be introduced into the debate, and so it is to these that I turn in the 
ensuing chapters. But first, it is important to outline the history of Sanskrit in the field 
of Indo-European studies over the last two centuries. As we have seen, the demotion of 
India as the favored Indo-European homeland in the early nineteenth century had a lot 
to do with the demotion of Sanskrit from its status as the original tongue of the Indo- 
Europeans to a more secondary and reduced role as a daughter language that might be 
even younger than some of its siblings. 


Indo-European Comparative Linguistics 

The Dethronement of Sanskrit 

Since no remnant of the original Proto-Indo-European language has been discovered, 
Indo-European historical reconstruction consists of comparing cognate words and gram¬ 
matical forms in the various historical Indo-European languages and deducing the original 
forms, or protoforms therefrom. Obviously, such an endeavor is deductive, since, by 
definition, there are no written documents in a protolanguage so it can never be frilly 
verified. Let us take a moment to note, along with Pulgram, that this protolanguage 
does not correspond to any de facto reality but to “something of a fiction,” or, in Zimmer’s 
terms, (1990a), not to “one of the languages spoken in an unknown antiquity by uni¬ 
dentified people but as a reference tool in discussing the history and development of 
the different Indo-European languages” (313). Pulgram (1959) further warns that “we 
must not make the mistake of confusing our methods, and the results flowing from 
them, with the facts; we must not delude ourselves into believing that our retrogressive 
method of reconstruction matches, step by step, the real progression of linguistic his¬ 
tory.” He continues: “We now find ourselves in possession of two entirely different 
items, both of which we call Proto-Indo-European: one, a set of reconstructed formulae 
not representative of any reality; the other, an undiscovered (possibly undiscoverable) 
language of whose reality we may be certain.” The difference between the two should 
always be kept in mind: “Arguing about ‘Proto-Indo-European’ can be meaningful and 
fruitful ... if we always explain whether we are talking about the one or the other— 
which, as we well know, we do not do” (424). In short, we know there was a Proto- 
Indo-European language; we do not know to what extent our reconstructions approxi¬ 
mate it. 

The Indo-Europeans are purely a linguistic entity: it was comparative Indo-European 
linguistics that necessitated the existence of a group of people whose language evolved 


Indo-European Comparative Linguistics 69 

into the classical and modern languages of Europe, Iran and India, and that co-opted 
archaeology, anthropology, and other disciplines into a quest for empirical evidence of 
their physical presence. Historical Indo-European linguistics got its start only when the 
Paninian analysis of an Indo-European language, Sanskrit, became known in Europe; 
the field was completely dependent on a mastery of Sanskrit grammar which still plays 
an indispensable role in Indo-European studies. Despite being naturally advantaged can¬ 
didates for such studies, Indian scholars have made a negligible contribution to this 
field. While there have been a few outstanding Indian historical linguists—trained, for 
the most part, in either Europe, Calcutta or Poona—their number has been insignifi¬ 
cant; with the exception of a history of Indo-European studies in Japan, the field of 
Indo-European historical linguistics has been almost exclusively a Western (and, most 
particularly, at least in its earlier phases, a German) domain. 

One explanation for this regrettable dearth of Indian participation was made by the 
linguist D. D. Mahulkar (1992) in an attempt to promote die case for the study of his¬ 
torical linguistics in India: 

It was a matter of great pride for us to know that the European scholar’s search for the 
“origin of language” had found its first springs on the Indian soil in the classical language 
of India, Sanskrit. Sanskrit since then began to play a role altogether undreamt of by its 
traditional grammarians. ... [It became) the most authentic tool in the hands of European 
scholars for exploration into the origin of their languages. . . . but doubts started creeping 
into the science after the law of palatals (1870) came to be formulated . . . [which was] to 
dethrone Sanskrit from its pedestal of being the dialect nearest to the original language. . . . 
it appears that Indian linguists of the time gave up the study of linguistics out of the dis¬ 
illusionment over the see-saw position of Sanskrit in what Whitney named as “European 
Sanskrit Science.” There was an overtone of emotionalism in their action. (4-6) 

As discussed previously, Sanskrit was initially considered by early scholars such as Schlegel 
and Eichhoff to be the original mother language or, at least, as suggested by scholars 
such as Bopp and Pott, almost identical to it despite containing some innovations. Ini¬ 
tially, the homeland was to a great extent situated in India because it seemed logical to 
locate it where the original, or oldest, languages were spoken. The complete dethrone¬ 
ment of Sanskrit to the point where it was no longer deferred to as being the preserver 
of the most archaic linguistic forms in most circumstances took the best part of a cen¬ 
tury of comparative philological research. 1 

The Law of Palatals and the Discovery of Hittite 

The law of palatals was the primary linguistic formula arrived at by the comparative 
method that dramatically shattered Sanskrit’s preeminent status as the most venerable 
elder in this reconstructed family. It was preceded, in this regard, by an influential article 
by Grassman published in 1863. According to what came to be known as Grimm’s 
law, certain regular changes had taken place in the Germanic languages when compared 
to other Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit. These included the observation that 
voiced stops had become voiceless stops (e.g. b had become p) in Germanic. 2 However, 
an irregularity to this sound change was evident. Sanskrit bandh - corresponded to Gothic 
bindan, where Grimm’s law would have predicted p instead of b in tire Gothic. Assum- 

70 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

ing Sanskrit to be the more pristine language, scholars intially thought the irregularities 
in correspondences between Germanic and Sanskrit were due to aberrations in Ger¬ 
manic. However, Grassman determined that this “irregularity” was due to Sanskrit, not 
Germanic, and was the result of a separate sound change. His observations resulted in 
a law which states that an aspirated sound looses its aspiration when followed by an¬ 
other aspirated sound. So an original Proto-Indo-European form *bhendh- had become 
bandh- in Sanskrit. The b in band h-, then, was due to innovations in Sanskrit, which up 
till then was generally assumed to have preserved the oldest forms, and not due to in¬ 
novations in German as had originally been assumed. Sanskrit’s deviation in this re¬ 
gard resulted in the reconstructed (i.e., unattested in any language) Indo-European forms 
being denoted with a preceding asterisk—as in *bhendh. Previously, the Sanskrit forms 
had generally been accepted as representative of the proto-language. 

The law of palatals solidified this demotion more conspiciously and sealed Sanskrit’s 
fate as a sister language to Greek, Latin, Germanic, and the other Indo-European lan¬ 
guages, rather than the more-or-less exact preserver of the original mother tongue. 
The final formulation of the law of palatals was the result of a series of discoveries by 
a number of European scholars. 3 Put briefly, Sanskrit has three primary vowels: a, i, 
and u. Up until the 1870s, scholars believed that this vowel triad represented the 
original Indo-European vowel system. However, while the occurrences of the i and u 
vowels in words cognate to Sanskrit and the other Indo-European languages was 
unproblematic (i.e., where a Sanskrit word contained an i or u, its cognates did like¬ 
wise), the a vowel proved to be unpredictable. In words where Sanskrit had preserved 
an a, other Indo-European languages revealed cognate forms with either a, e, or o 
with no apparent consistency. 4 The method of historical linguistics is based on the 
tenet that all sound changes are rule-governed, but there did not seem to be any dis¬ 
cernible rules governing these particular vowel correspondences. Although linguists 
found this multiplicity of Indo-European vowels in cognate forms bewildering and 
seemingly erratic, they assumed that Sanskrit had best preserved the original IE pho¬ 
nological system and that therefore Sanskrit a was the protosound that the other lan¬ 
guages somehow had corrupted into a, e, and o. But they could not determine the 
phonemic laws governing such changes. 

The law of palatals reversed all this by postulating that it was the other languages 
such as Greek and Latin that, in addition to i and u, had also faithfully preserved the 
original vowels a, e, and o from an original Indo-European pentad i, u, a, e, and o: 
Sanskrit had been the innovator by merging the latter three vowels into a single a to 
form its vowel triad. 5 Specifically, the law postulated that velars are replaced by palatals 
in the environments where Sanskrit a corresponds to e in other dialects, and that there¬ 
fore Sanskrit once also contained an e in those environments The law was perceived 
most clearly in the reduplicated perfective form cakdra ‘he/she did’. The basic charac¬ 
teristic of this preterit tense, termed lit by Paninian grammarians, is that the first syl¬ 
lable of the root reduplicates. However, guttural (velar) stops are irregular in this re¬ 
gard, being replaced by palatals in the reduplicated form. Thus, kr yields cakdra, and 
gam- yields jagdma. Within Sanskrit, there is no explanation for this phenomenon—the 
reduplication should logically have resulted in kakdra and g agdma. Greek, however, 
showed that the reduplicated syllable has an e vowel. This was the clue that alerted the 

Indo-European Comparative Linguistics 71 

Scholars argued that according to the law of palatals, the reduplicated form of kr 
was originally kekora, the first k being a reduplication of dre root syllable in accordance 
with the regular laws of reduplication. However, it was proposed that due to the influ¬ 
ence of the postulated vowel e following the reduplicated k, this latter transformed into 
c. The law of palatalization claimed that the vowel following the reduplicated syllable 
could not have been an a; otherwise, there would have been no stimulus for the pala¬ 
talization of the guttural to have occurred in the first place. The change seems natural, 
in contrast, if the reduplicated vowel was an e. The reason is simply one of euphonic 
ease of articulation. Front vowels, such as e, cause palatalization, whereas back vowels, 
such as a, have no such effect. As Pedersen (1931) puts it: “This Indian law could not 
be seen unless one dared assume that the vowel system in Sanskrit is quite the reverse 
of primitive, and that the Latin e in que ‘and’ (Greek te) is older than the a in Sanskrit 
ca ‘and’” (280). The thought was revolutionary. In one stroke, there was no more mys¬ 
tery concerning the vowel correspondences: method had finally been brought to the 
madness. The hitherto perceived conservatism of Sanskrit, however, was the casualty of 
this advancement in linguistics; it had now officially lost its exclusive claim of being the 
most archaic member of the family in all respects. 

A later hypothesis that further significantly demoted Sanskrit from its venerable po¬ 
sition in the eyes of many linguists as the most intact member of the Indo-European 
language family, was the discovery of the laryngeals in Hittite. Saussure initially postu¬ 
lated the existence of certain unknown resonant sounds in the Proto-Indo-European 
language. 6 These resonants, which Saussure called coefficients sonantiques (and repre¬ 
sented as A and O) but were later called laryngeals, disappeared in the daughter Indo- 
European languages, but their original existence was deduced by Saussure from the effects 
they had left behind on neighboring vowels before becoming extinct. 7 

Over half a century later, in 1927, Kuryiowicz examined the Hittite documents that 
had been discovered in Anatolia during the First World War in the light of Saussure’s 
contentions. He found that they actually contained a h phoneme in the exact linguistic 
locations that Saussure had predicted that his A resonant should have once existed. 
This h phoneme was termed a laryngeal by analogy with Semitic laryngeals, which were 
also lost after they had affected the vowel in a fashion similar to Saussure’s proposed 
coefficients. What had been postulated by the inferential process of comparative linguis¬ 
tics had now been demonstrated as factual by empirical, inscriptional data. 8 While the 
discovery of die laryngeal greatly validated the efficacy and validity of the process of 
historical reconstruction, the discovery of Hittite and, to a much lesser extent, Tocharian 
(which will be discussed later) has significantly altered the appearance of the reconstructed 
protolanguage not only in phonology but also in morphology and lexicology. As an 
aside, as has been pointed out, these discoveries underscore the tentative nature of Proto- 
Indo-European reconstruction: any further future uncovering of presently unknown lan¬ 
guages may cause linguists to alter their present reconstructions and produce a signifi¬ 
cantly altered reconstructed language that is different from the one linguists have 
reconstructed today. As Pulgram (1959) points out, “when a new dialect is discovered, 
the inventory of Proto-Indo-European phonemes may have to be revised, as indeed it 
was after we learned about Tocharish and Hittite. Needless to say, the inventory of real 
Proto-Indo-European is not subject to revision on the evidence of modern discoveries” 


72 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Be that as it may, for our purposes, the discovery of the laryngeals, although still the 
subject of debate among linguists, reveals a written Indo-European language that had 
preserved linguistic features that were more archaic than Vedic. This “demotion” of 
Sanskrit has been ongoing ever since; although Indo-European studies is still heavily 
dependent on Sanskrit for any attempt at reconstruction (indeed, there is no way of 
determining if there even would have been a discipline of Indo-European studies without 
Sanskrit), it has been claimed that every commonly accepted adjustment to the recon¬ 
struction of Proto-Indo-European in the last century and a half has involved a further 
de-Sanskritisation of the protolanguage. As in any discipline, however, there are still 
“conservative” linguists who remain unconvinced about some of the new proposals con¬ 
cerning the protolanguage and who still accept Sanskrit as the most faithful preserver of 
most of the protoforms. 

Objections from India 

One of the very few Indian linguists who has contested some aspects of this de- 
sanskritization of Proto-Indo-European is Satya Swarup Misra (1977, 1994), who has 
particularly opposed the laryngeal theory for three decades. 9 His opposition, it should 
be noted, has nothing to do with the Aryan invasion debate or with issues connected 
with Vedic antiquity, since at the time he first published his thesis, he accepted the 
theory of Aryan invasions and the commonly accepted date of 1200 b.c.e. for the 
Rgveda. 10 Misra has repeatedly argued that the theory rests on limited evidence pro¬ 
vided by only one member of the Indo-European language family—die Anatolian group. 11 
He prefers to consider that the Hittite h symbol either had merely graphic status with 
no phonemic value or was a phoneme borrowed from another language family, per¬ 
haps Semitic, in a manner analogous to the supposed borrowing of retroflexes into Indo- 
Aryan from Dravidian (which are phonemes unattested in other Indo-European lan¬ 
guages and therefore not ascribed to Proto-European). 12 

Nonetheless, apart from the laryngeals, Hittite is considered to have preserved other 
archaic Indo-European linguistic features that Sanskrit and other Indo-European lan¬ 
guages have lost. Some linguists, for example, believe that it has retained the original 
common Indo-European gender where Vedic, and other languages, innovated the mas¬ 
culine-feminine gender distinction. 13 Although other linguists reject this idea, the gap 
between Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European has progressively widened in the eyes of some 
linguists. Several scholars such as Polome have argued that some features in Indie and 
Greek that have always been considered archaic, such as the reduplicated perfect, are 
actually late Indo-European innovations: “We must consider Greek and Indo-Aryan as 
reflecting the most recent developments in the Indo-European speech community at the 
time of its disintegration” (Polome 1985, 682). Lehmann (1993) acknowledges that “many 
Indo-Europeanists still assume that the subgroup including Sanskrit and Greek is clos¬ 
est to the proto-language” but feels this position “requires extraordinary effort to ac¬ 
count for the morphological structure of Hittite, especially because of its similarity with 
that of Germanic. It also overlooks innovations in Greek and Sanskrit that have not 
been extended throughout all categories in the early stages of these languages, such as 
the augment” (261). Indeed, Lehmann goes so far as to say that “the history of recon- 

Indo-European Comparative Linguistics 73 

structing Proto-Indo-European might be characterized as a continuing effort to liberate 
it from the heavy hand of Sanskrit” (261). Of course, the last word has yet to be said on 
such matters, and Polome (1985) makes a point of adding that “all of this does not 
imply . . . that Indie does not show archaic features” (682). But Proto-Indo-European 
appears far less Sanskritic nowadays than it was in the fable Schleicher attempted to 
reconstruct in Proto-Indo-European in 1871, which was almost pure Sanskrit. 14 

More recendy, since Misra (1992) has begun to reject the Aryan invasion theory on 
linguistic grounds, he has become more and more suspicious of the reconstructed proto- 
language. He has even reexamined the primacy of Greek and Latin a, e, and o over 
Sanskrit a. He suggests that the Gypsy languages provide evidence that an original San¬ 
skrit a vowel does demonstrably evolve into a, e, and o in later languages. 15 The Gyp¬ 
sies are generally accepted as having migrated from India some time in the common era 
and speak languages that are Indo-Aryan in character. The logic here is that if, in the 
historic period, Indo-Aryan speaking tribes have left India and migrated to Europe, where 
they are found speaking dialects that have transformed an original Sanskrit a vowel into 
a, e and o, dten the same could be postulated for the protohistoric period: Indo-Euro¬ 
pean tribes could have left a homeland in India carrying a Proto-Indo-European a that 
evolved into the a, e, and o of the later Greek and Latin languages. 16 However, Misra’s 
proposal, apart from anything else, gives only a passing reference to the law of palatal¬ 
ization which, as has been outlined, initially caused linguists to postulate a Proto-Indo- 
European a, e, and o triad, as opposed to a proto a form, in the first place. 

It should go without saying that no serious linguist is about to reverse a century and 
a half of linguistic research to contemplate the proposal that proto-Indo-European was 
identical with Vedic, as some members of the Indigenous Aryan school might hope. 17 
Of course, even allowing the more complete preservation of the Indo-European vowels 
in, say, Greek or other European languages, and of the laryngeals in Hittite, or of the 
archaic features in Lithuanian, Indian scholars can still argue that Vedic is, overall, the 
language that has most completely retained the Proto-Indo-European character despite 
the present trend among many linguists to consider the distinctive Vedic features to 
have been later innovations. But language is never static. Linguists cannot be expected 
to accept Vedic as an immutable linguistic entity that somehow transcends the transfor¬ 
mations visible in every language known to man (transformations that are, indeed, per¬ 
ceivable in the Vedic texts themselves). The discourse of an eternal, unchanging Veda 
is a legitimate one for the ashram, not the academy. 18 


Whatever might have been the real nature of Proto-Indo-European, for the purposes of 
this study, the existence of various linguistic stages of Indo-European more archaic than 
Vedic is irrelevant (or, at least, peripheral) to the problem of the origin of the Indo- 
Aryans. In the absence of compelling counterarguments, there are no grounds to ques¬ 
tion that Proto-Indo-European resembles, more or less, the reconstructed entity diligently 
assembled to the satisfaction of most historical linguistics with its e and o vowels, its 
laryngeals, and the rest of its carefully formulated components. Unless this linguistic 
evidence is deconstructed in a thoroughly comprehensive methodological way, there are 

74 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

no a priori reasons to reject the basics of the Proto-Indo-European language as accepted 
by most linguists. 19 The real problem ultimately facing Indigenous Aryanists boils down 
to whether, or more specifically how, this Indo-European language could have origi¬ 
nated in some area of India. If this proposal cannot be argued convincingly, then it at 
least must be demonstrated whether and how India can avoid being excluded as one 
potential homeland among others. 

It is all well and good to insist that there is no evidence supporting the theory of an 
external origin of the Indo-Aryan language, but how are the connections between Vedic 
Sanskrit and the other members of the Indo-European language family to be explained? 
That cognate languages must, by definition, have a common linguistic and geographic 
origin is an assumption that few have challenged. 20 The history of the Indo-Aryan group 
of languages must always be reconstructed from within the context of its membership 
in the greater Indo-European language family of which it is an unassailable member. 
Any theories pertaining to one member of the family must be in harmony with the data 
connected widr the other members of the family. If Indo-Aryan is to be considered in¬ 
digenous to the subcontinent, then how is its relationship to the other Indo-European 
languages to be explained? Either the Indo-Aryan languages entered the subcontinent 
from an external geographic origin or, if it is to be argued that this group is indigenous, 
at least to the Northwest, the unavoidable corollary is that northwest India is the geo¬ 
graphic origin of all the other Indo-European languages, which must have emigrated to 
the West from there. Indigenous Aryanists have to confront and address this language 
connection, with its inescapable requirement of a common language origin. 

However, many scholars tend to avoid pursuing their claims of Aryan autochthony to 
this inevitable conclusion. Indeed, with a very few exceptions, most Indigenous Aryanists 
tend to completely ignore the linguistic evidence altogether. Others are almost cavalier in 
their dismissal of it: “All the comparative philological speculations, . . . according to some 
of us, provide the greatest stumbling-block to the appreciation of a multi-linear archaeo¬ 
logical development of culture and civilisation in different parts of India” (Chakrabarti 
1995, 429); “Ancient Indian history is ripe for a thorough revision. . . . one can begin by 
clearing away the cobwebs cast by questionable linguistic theories,. . . using every avail¬ 
able modern tool from archaeology to computer science” (Rajaram 1995, 230). 

There seem to be two very basic reasons for this neglect. Seeing the morass of oppos¬ 
ing opinions supposedly based on the same linguistic evidence, some scholars have 
rejected the whole Indo-European enterprise as hopelessly speculative and inconclusive. 
To put it another way, they are not interested—this is primarily a European preoccupa¬ 
tion. 21 Alternatively, for those interested in Indo-European historical linguistics, they 
soon find that the field is inaccessible to the dilettante and requires organized study that 
is not easy to come by in India. Current scholarly publications in Indo-European pre¬ 
suppose acquaintance with almost two cenmries of linguistic discoveries (much of it in 
German and French and, more recently, Russian), as well as with at least a number of 
principle Indo-European languages (including, at least, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Hittite, 
and Germanic). 22 As mentioned earlier, although there have been, and still are, some 
exceptional historical linguists in India, their numbers are few. This is not a subject 
that is fruitfully pursued, and it has always remained predominantly a Western field of 
scholarship. It should be noted that there is very little facility in India for the study of 

Indo-European Comparative Linguistics 75 

historical linguistics. When I conducted my research (1994-95), only two universites in 
the subcontinent were actively offering adequate courses in this field. 23 

Perhaps the dethronement of Sanskrit as the most archaic Indo-European language 
did initially contribute to a loss of interest in this field as suggested by Mahulkar, but 
one suspects that present-day concerns are more pragmatic, at least in terms of the aca¬ 
demic powers that be. As is increasingly apparent even in areas of the Western acad¬ 
emy, sociolinguistics or modern language study produce more tangible fruits for dwindling 
government funding. Indian scholars, for the most part, simply do not have the train¬ 
ing to embark on a scholarly critique or evaluation of the vast specialized field of Indo- 
European studies. For the most part, with some exceptions, Indigenists wishing to tackle 
the Indo-Aryan issue are left with the option of either ignoring the linguistic dimension 
of the problem or attempting to tackle it with sometimes hopelessly inadequate qualifi¬ 
cations. Typically, the formulations of the Indo-Europeanists, being inaccessible, are 
dismissed in frustration as highly speculative and irrelevant. This attitude and neglect 
significantly minimizes the value of most Indigenist publications. 24 

In any event, as we shall see, a few scholars have argued that the linguistic evidence 
could just as well be reconfigured to postulate that even India might have been the Indo- 
European homeland. This challenge, when made by the more sober members of the 
Indigenous Aryan school, does not so much aim to prove that India factually was dte 
original homeland as to assert that the linguistic evidence is not sufficiently conclusive 
to fully determine where the homeland was. In view of this challenge, we must, as a 
purely theoretical exercise, consider whether the linguistic evidence can exclude the 
possibility of a South Asian homeland as one candidate among others. 


Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 

Another principal reason that South Asia had been excluded relatively early as a poten¬ 
tial Indo-European homeland was that it showed evidence of a pre-Indo-European lin¬ 
guistic substratum—considered to have been of Dravidian, Munda, or other unknown 
languages. I use the term substratum in the sense of an indigenous language being sub¬ 
sumed and displaced by an alien incoming language. In this process, die indigenous 
language affects the dominant language by depositing into it its own linguistic features, 
such as vocabulary or morphology. These features form a substratum in die dominant 
language that can be discerned by diligent linguists. Such evidence is solid reason to 
exclude India and must detain us at length. Southern Europe had also been eliminated 
for the same reasons—northern Spain and southwestern France had a pre-Indo-Euro¬ 
pean substratum in the form of Basque, and Italy had Etruscan. This method, which 
has sometimes been called the exclusion principle, initially serves to at least delimit the 
range of candidates for the Proto-Indo-European homeland from within the massive 
area where the cognate languages were and are spoken. Dravidian, Munda, Basque, 
and Etruscan are not Indo-European languages, suggesting that Indo-European was not 
the original language family in those areas and therefore must have intruded from else¬ 
where. The evidence of such a substratum remains one of the most cited and compel¬ 
ling reasons for accepting the verdict that the Indo-Aryan language must have had an 
origin external to the Indian subcontinent. As Emeneau (1954) puts it: “This is our 
linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There 
seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it despite the traditional Hindu 
ignorance of any such invasion, their doctrine that Sanskrit is the ‘language of the Gods,’ 
and the somewhat chauvinistic clinging to the old tradition even today by some Indian 
scholars” (282). 


Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 77 

The best-known study of the Dravidian languages was made by the Reverend Robert 
Caldwell in his pioneering Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages in 1856 
(although, in actuality, the first publication on the Dravidian language family was by 
Francis Whyte Ellis, as far back as 1816—the year of Bopp’s famous comparative gram¬ 
mar). 1 Until the founding of the Madras Orientalist school, scholars, who had assumed 
that all the languages of the subcontinent had a common origin, had been almost exclu¬ 
sively concerned with the Indo-Aryan languages because of the relationship these lan¬ 
guages had with the classical languages of Europe and the exciting implications this 
connection suggested for the origins of Western civilization. In 1849, Alexander Campbell 
continued the work of Ellis and was able to demonstrate that “it has been very generally 
asserted, and indeed believed, that the Teloogoo has its origin in the language of the 
Vedums. ... my inquiries have led me to the opposite conclusion.. . . Teloogoo abounds 
with Sanskrit words. . . . nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the origin of the 
two languages is altogether distinct” (xv-xvi). The breakthrough for these scholars was 
originally triggered by the extensive analyses of the traditional grammarians of India, 
who had noted the distinction between the Sanskrit words and the non-Sanskritic desya 
ones. This alerted these linguists to the possibility of non-Indo-Aryan languages in the 

The discovery of non-Sanskritic languages in the South provided important material 
that seemed to militate against the idea of the Indo-Aryans as indigenous to India—or at 
least to any of it except the Northwest. In a series of articles in the early 1840s, Stevenson 
(1844) laid out the implicatioris of this non-Sanskritic, indigenous language base, which 
he perceived even in the northern vernaculars: 

If we can trace a language wholly different from the Sanscrit in all the modern dialects, 

... it will seem to follow, that the whole region previous to the arrival of the Brahmans 
was peopled by the members of one great family of a different origin. ... I call the Brah¬ 
mans a foreign tribe in accordance with indications derivable from the cast of their fea¬ 
tures, and the colour of their skin, as well as their possessing a language which none of 
the natives of India but themselves can even so much as pronounce; and the constant 
current of their own traditions making them foreign to the whole of India, except per¬ 
haps a small district to the north-west upon the Ganges. (104) 

In another article, Stevenson (1851) elaborated more fully on his theory, which, is more 
or less an account that can still be found in texts on Indian prehistory. He envisioned 
tribes entering the main part of India, defeating the aborigines by force of arms, expel¬ 
ling them from the northern regions, and enslaving those that remained (73). By the 
middle of the nineteenth century, most Western scholars had accepted the existence of 
the Dravidian languages as conclusive proof that the Aryans could not have been indig¬ 
enous to the subcontinent: “That the Arian population of India descended into it about 
3000 years ago from the north-west, as conquerors, and that they completely subdued 
all the open and cultivated parts of Hindustan, Bengal and the most adjacent tracts of 
the Deccan but failed to extend their effective sway and colonization further south, are 
quasi historical deductions confirmed daily more and more” (Hodgson 1848, 551). 

To this day, a few linguistic islands of Dravidian languages, of which Brahui occu¬ 
pies the largest area, exist in the North of India surrounded by an ocean of Indo-Aryan 
languages. They are generally explained as being isolated remnants that had somehow 
avoided being engulfed by the incoming tides of Indo-Aryan speakers encroaching on 

78 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

what had originally been a Dravidian language area spread throughout much of India. 
Moreover, a few words in the Rgveda, progressively more words in later Vedic texts, 
and a much larger number of words in later Epic texts were identified as being loanwords 
principally from Dravidian but with some forms traceable to Munda. The borrowings 
were held to have ceased shortly after the Epic period. This seemed to fit neatly into the 
hypothesis that when the Vedas were composed, the Indo-Aryans had only recently arrived 
into Dravidian-speaking India and had absorbed only a few words from the local 
Dravidian substratum. 2 As time went by and the Aryan speakers merged completely 
with the native population, more and more Dravidian words were absorbed, which 
emerged increasingly in the later texts. Sometime before the common era, when the 
Dravidian languages in the North had been completely subsumed by Aryan dialects, 
the borrowings ceased. This whole process is usually understood as being the result of 
the Aryans themselves adopting new items of the local lexicon and/or of bilingual 
Dravidian speakers increasingly adopting the new Aryan languages until they eventu¬ 
ally became completely co-opted into speaking Indo-Aryan, but not without preserving 
a significant number of words and other linguistic features from their own languages. I 
will deal first with these other, nonlexical items. Here, as in the remaining chapters on 
Linguistics, I will try to keep technical details to a minimum. 

Linguistic Innovations in Sanskrit 

Vocabulary was not the only Dravidian element that seemed to have surfaced in Indo- 
Aryan: a number of syntactical and morphological features common to Dravidian, but 
alien to other Indo-European languages, had been identified since Caldwell’s work in 
1856. None of these features were explicitly present in other Indo-European languages, 
but they did occur in Sanskrit, Dravidian, and other South Asian languages. Such shared 
syntactical and morphological features reinforced the hypothesis drat the Indo-Aryans 
were intruders to the subcontinent and that bilingual Dravidian speakers who preceded 
them in the North of India had welded some of their own local syntactical features onto 
the encroaching Aryan languages they were adopting. This idea of syntactical conver¬ 
gence has developed into the established paradigm of South Asia as a linguistic area. 3 
In the case of Sanskrit, these syntactical innovations were generally held by most schol¬ 
ars to be due to a local substratum of Dravidian, which triggered this linguistic subver¬ 
sion (most recently Emeneau 1980; Kuiper 1991). Munda is another candidate (Witzel 
1999, forthcoming b). Some scholars see a combination of both. Southworth, for ex¬ 
ample, on the basis of geographic dialect variations in the Asokan inscriptions as well 
as in New Indo-Aryan languages, proposed that “while the population in the western 
areas . . . was probably mainly Dravidian speaking, in the Gangetic plain . . . the IA 
language was taken up by a predominantly Tibeto-Burmese population” (1974, 222). 4 An 
unknown primordial language, which was pre-Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, or Munda, called 
“language x” by Masica (1979) has also been identified in the texts. 

As noted, bilingualism is held to be one of die mechanism of the innovations, with 
most linguists painting a picture of non-Aryan natives from the lower strata adopting 
the intruding elite language of Indo-Aryan (although Southworth 1979 sees social equals), 
but adapting it somewhat to accommodate certain lexical, phonemic, morphological, 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 79 

and syntactic features of their own languages (e.g., Kuiper 1991, 96). Although this 
substratum language subsequently disappeared in North India, its original existence 
there could be inferred from the linguistic clues it had left behind in Sanskrit and 
later Indo-Aryan languages in the form of non-Indo-European syntax, vocabulary and 
root structure. 

There are, in particular, three linguistic feanires that are innovative in the Rgveda 
and that have been the subject of the most discussion. Phonologically, there is the intro¬ 
duction of retroflexes, which alternate with dentals in Indo-Aryan; morphologically there 
are the gerunds, absolutives or verbal participles (e.g., hatva instead of jaghanvan); and 
syntactically there is the use of iti, a postposed quotative marker. Other features have 
also been noted by linguists, 5 but since my focus is primarily on the Rgveda these items 
are among those particularly relevant here and serve as suitable exemplars for the pur¬ 
pose of this analysis. 

Caldwell ([1856] 1875) who was the first to thoroughly examine such innovations, 
noticed instances where the North Indian vernacular languages shared certain particu- 

80 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

lars with the Dravidian languages that were not shared with other Indo-European lan¬ 
guages (59). 6 Although accepting the hypothesis that the derivation of the North Indian 
languages from Sanskrit had transpired not so much because of natural processes as 
from the “overmastering, overmolding power of the non-Sanskritic element contained 
in them,” Caldwell rejected the possibility that these non-Sanskritic elements—the sub¬ 
stratum, in modern parlance—could have been Dravidian: 7 “Whatever the ethnological 
evidence of their identity may be supposed to exist,—when we view the question philo- 
logically, and with reference to the evidence furnished by their languages alone, the 
hypothesis of their identity [as Dravidian] does not appear to me to have been estab¬ 
lished” (58). Caldwell pointed out that the structural similarities common to Dravidian 
and the Indo-Aryan languages were also shared with other non-Aryan languages; 
Dravidian was not the only candidate that might have influenced the development of 

Such arguments would be of merely historical interest were they not to keep resur¬ 
facing. In 1924 and again in 1929, Jules Bloch reiterated some of Caldwell’s objec¬ 
tions, insisting that “in the present state of our knowledge, it is impossible to affirm 
that the form taken by the Aryan language in India is due to its adoption by a Dravidian- 
speaking population. If there is a substratum at all, this substratum could just as equally 
be looked for in other families, especially the Munda family” (1924-30, 20; my trans¬ 
lation). 8 Bloch also remarked that Brahui quite easily could have migrated from central 
India to the North in the same way as the Dravidian-speaking Oraon and Maler tribes 
had migrated north to Chota Nagpur (2). Likewise, the Dravidian-speaking Kurukh and 
Malto tribes live in territory with Munda place-names and still maintain traditions re¬ 
ferring to their migration into Munda territory (Bloch 1946; see also Hock 1996). Like 
Caldwell, Bloch rejected the idea that Dravidian could have been the origin of certain 
phonemic and syntactic innovations in Indo-Aryan, and stressed that Dravidian was 
not the only language sharing the syntactical features that distinguished Indo-Aryan from 
other Indo-European languages, some of which, he argued, could have been internal 
developments rather than borrowing. 8 

Over the last two decades, H. H. Hock (1975, 1984, 1996) has strongly challenged 
the notion that the linguistic convergences in the Indian languages could only have been 
due to a Dravidian substratum. For the most part, he argues that many of the innova¬ 
tive features Indo-Aryan shares with Dravidian actually have parallels in other Indo- 
European languages and are therefore more likely to have been internal developments 
and not borrowings from any other language at all. Citing examples of retroflexion 
occurring in other Indo-European languages, Hock proposed that this trait could have 
been an indigenous development (a possibility Burrow also felt was perfectly valid). 
Likewise, he listed occurrences of gerunds and participles (absolutives) in other Indo- 
European languages, as well as usages of the quotative marker iti. Hock (1984a) argues 
that the subject-object-verb (SOV) syntactical positioning Indo-Aryan shares with 
Dravidian may have existed in Indo-European itself in its eastern area (97). He also 
claimed that all the uses of api— ‘also’, ‘and’, ‘even’, ‘totality’, and ‘-(so)ever’—have par¬ 
allels in Indo-Iranian and Indo-European (103-104). 

If Hock is corect that all these features could have developed in the other Indo-Euro¬ 
pean languages that had no contact whatsoever with Dravidian, then their occurrence 
in Indo-Aryan must also be possible without requiring Dravidian influence (see Kuiper 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 81 

1991, 10, for criticism). Like several linguists, Hock argues that retroflexion can be ex- 
plained by purely internal developments; he notes that other Indo-European languages, 
albeit the more recent ones of Swedish and Norwegian, have developed the feature 
completely independent of any substratum. He reiterates and expands on Bloch’s (1924) 
comments that the positioning and phonology of various retroflexes differ in Dravidian 
and Indo'Aryan. This fact alone problematizes the candidacy of Dravidian as a substra¬ 
tum for Indo-Aryan and caused Tikkanen (1987, 295) to postulate that both Dravidian 
and Indo-Aryan had received the feature from two separate substrata. 

Hock’s model (1993) is one of language “convergence” rather than “subversion” a 
process of mutual directionality or exchange between languages as the result of long¬ 
standing bilingual contact, as opposed to unidirectional transfers under conditions of 
social inequality—a process “similar to what we find in modern South Asia” (76). He 
notes a very important point: many of the early phonological differences between Indo- 
Aryan and Dravidian disappear toward the modern period, but this has nothing to do 
with subversion. It was caused by convergence. In other words, adstratum can account 
for this convergence, not substratum. In adstratum situation, languages are geographi¬ 
cally adjacent to each other, as opposed to one intrusive language being superimposed 
on a preexisting language. 

The other type of stratum relationship, that of superstratum, entails linguistic intru¬ 
sions into a preexisting dominant language area by other languages that were eventually 
subsumed (or that eventually proceeded on), but not before affecting the dominant lan¬ 
guage in some fashion. English, for example, intruded into India in the Colonial Pe¬ 
riod. It did not displace the local languages, but did pass many loan words into them. 
Hock also argues (1993) that the whole phenomenon of shared retroflexion (which, as 
noted earlier, could have been an internal development) also could have been caused by 
convergence between the two languages or by mediation by a third entity (96). Hock 
(1984a) concludes by encouraging scholars to look for alternative explanations to the 
Dravidian substratum hypotheses, since “the claim that Dravidian influence on San¬ 
skrit began in pre-Rig-Vedic times must be considered not supported by sufficient evi¬ 
dence” (104). As we shall see, the vocabulary evidence does not favor direct contact 
with either Dravidian or Munda, thus causing scholars to postulate an even earlier 
unknown language. Hock (1996b) is open to the possibility that there may have been 
other languages, no longer extant, that could have preceded Sanskrit. He notes, how¬ 
ever, that such a claim is “methodologically problematic, since it can be neither verified 
nor falsified” (57). 

Reluctance to accept substratum influences, and particularly Dravidian substratum, 
as the cause of specific linguistic developments in Indo-Aryan has remained consistent. 
The possibility of the retroflexes in Sanskrit being a spontaneous phenomenon has been 
current since Buhler’s work in 1864. As Kuiper ([1967] 1974) remarks, “No agreement 
has yet been reached after a discussion extending over more than a century” (138). 
Deshpande (1979), in accordance with other scholars such as Emeneau, does believe 
that Dravidian was the origin for this feature but argues that retroflexion did not exist 
in the original Rgveda. He believes that its origin “lies in Dravidian speakers adapting 
Aryan speech to their native phonology” (297). Kuiper (1991), in contrast, is quite ada¬ 
mant that they “must have penetrated into Indo-Aryan in a prehistoric (‘pre-Vedic’) period” 
(14). Hamp (1996), while prepared to allow that “Dravidian articulation habits may 

82 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

have contributed to these allophonic variations,” demonstrates that the conditions “were 
laid and can be traced in the Indo-European patrimony of Sanskrit.” He laid out the 
series of sound changes from purely inherited Indo-European material that arrive “by 
perfectly orderly Lautgesetze' to the distinctive feature of retroflexion (721; see also Vine 
1987). In other words, retroflexion can be explained purely as the result of spontane¬ 
ous linguistic sound processes inherent in Indo-Aryan itself: it need not be seen as the 
result of a linguistic imposition from a foreign language. 

Similar disagreement revolve around other such innovations in Indo-Aryan. Like Hock, 
Tikkanen, for example, in his book on the Sanskrit gerund, finds that adstratum influ¬ 
ences could just as easily account for the commonalty of this feature between Indo-Aryan 
and Dravidian. 9 Jamison, (1989) in her review of Tikkanen’s book, dismisses any talk 
of substratum at all in this regard, “since one less committed to the substrate explana¬ 
tion can easily see mechanisms whereby the gerund could have independently acquired 
the value it has when it enters history” (461). (For criticisms, see Kuiper 1991, 10). 
Tikkanen’s comment about adstratum, as opposed to substratum, influence, which 
parallel’s Hock’s notion of’Convergence,’ provides an alternative model tor the linguis¬ 
tic history of South Asia that will be further discussed later. 

The Indigenous Aryan school, for the most part, seems to be either completely oblivi¬ 
ous to the whole linguistic substratum dimension of this issue or dismissive of it: “It 
now appears that the underlying linguistic theories may be enjoying a . . . charmed life. 
All theories should be validated by data independent of the theory, and not by hypothetical 
constructions derived from the theory itself. Until that happens, the safest course is to re¬ 
gard these theories as unproven conjectures and refrain from basing any key conclu¬ 
sions on their claims” (Rajaram 1995, 219: italics in original). This is a conspicuous 
and curious neglect. It is conspicuous because the whole theory of the external origin of 
the Indo-Aryans was greatly accelerated by the “discovery” of the Dravidian languages 
and of the non-Indo-European elements in Sanskrit, and this evidence needs to be ad¬ 
dressed by those contesting the theory. It is curious because if we ignore, for the mo¬ 
ment, all other types of data connected with the problem of Aryan origins, it would 
seem that there might actually be some scope in all this to challenge the assumption 
that there had to be a pre-Aryan linguistic substratum at all—at least in the matter of 
phonology, morphology, and syntax. Several linguists, all of whom accept the external 
origin of the Aryan languages on other grounds, are quite open to considering that the 
various syntactical developments in Indo-Aryan could have been internal developments 
rather than the result of substrate influences, or have been the result of adstratum. 
Dravidian in particular, the most popular candidate, has been consistently challenged 
as a possible linguistic substratum for Indo-Aryan. 

Before proceeding any further, it is very' important to note that there is a serious 
methodological drawback in these types of comparisons, since we cannot compare the 
syntax of the Rgveda with actual contemporaneous Dravidian texts, but only with a re¬ 
constructed proto-Dravidian. The oldest Dravidian literary evidence that we know of 
comes from epigraphs of old Tamil written in a form of Brahml script sometime be¬ 
tween the third and the first centuries b.c.e. The first completely intelligible, datable, 
and sufficiently long and complete epigraphs that might be of some use in linguistic 
comparison are die Tamil inscriptions of the Pallava dynasty of about 550 c.e. (Zvelebil 
1990), two entire millennia after the commonly accepted date for the Rgveda. Postulat- 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 


ing syntactical influence on Vedic from Dravidian material attested after such a vast 
amount of time has obvious methodological limitations. 

The Munda languages have left no significant literary tradition at all, so the interval 
in their case at least is a staggering thirty-five hundred years. Moreover, there is much 
less material available on comparative Munda, and much of the proto-language has been 
reconstructed from material drawn from members of the family outside the subconti¬ 
nent—there are no etymological dictionaries of proto-Munda, nor of its daughter lan¬ 
guages. Establishing connections with Munda is made more problematic, since, as Burrow 
(1968) noted (to the approval of Masica [1979] and Southworth [1979]), “the evidence 
as it is so far established would suggest that these languages in ancient times as well as 
now were situated only in eastern India” (328). However, this idea, as will be discussed 
later, has recently been challenged by Witzel (forthcoming). 

The possibility of Indo-Aryan spontaneously evolving the syntactical innovations and 
then influencing Dravidian or Munda, as opposed to being influenced by them, needs 
to be excluded as a possibility. Hock (1993) complains that “implicit in the subversionist 
view of early Indo-Aryan/Dravidian contact is the assumption of unilateral influence of 
Dravidian on Indo-Aryan. . . . No mention is ever made of prehistoric Indo-Aryan in¬ 
fluence on Dravidian “ (85). Even Emeneau (1980), a committed proponent of Dravidian 
bilingualism, is remarkably cautious in his proposals and is forced to acknowledge that 
it could have been Indo-Aryan that influenced Dravidian as opposed to being influenced 
by it: “Is the whole 1A [Indo-Aryan] history one of self-development, and the complex Dr. 
[Dravidian] development something triggered by LA, perhaps even NIA [new IA], influ¬ 
ence, or, in the case of Kurukh, borrowed from NIA?. . . This . . . solution is less attrac¬ 
tive than [Dr. influencing IA]. But no easy solution is yet at hand” (174). 

As for Brahui, according to Dyen’s lexicostatistical study (1956), “there is a choice 
whether Brahui was separated from the other languages by the Indo-Aryan invasion or 
whether it represents a migration [from the South], Since a negative migration cannot 
be ruled out, the two inferences are equally probable” (625). It is, of course, a perfectly 
common linguistic phenomenon for intruding dominant languages to displace preced¬ 
ing languages, relegating them to small pockets in marginal areas. But it is just as com¬ 
mon for small groups of language speakers to migrate and survive in small pockets outside 
the domain of their own language family; Brahui need not be considered a remnant of 
a pre-Aryan, Dravidian substratum, a possibility recognized even by Emeneau (1962b, 
70). Like Bloch, Hock (1975, 88) finds the suggestion that Brahui could have emigrated 
from the South to the North to be perfectly possible. The Brahui, like the Kurukh and 
Malto, actually maintain traditions referring to their external origin. 10 This immigrant 
position of Brahui has again recently been asserted by Elfenbein (1987), who finds it 
impossible that it could have survived for five thousand years (the Dravidians as will be 
discussed below, are supposed to have migrated into India around 3000 b.c.e.) as a 
small, isolated linguistic group completely surrounded by alien languages. 

All of the linguists who have puzzled over the linguistic innovations in Indo-Aryan 
have assumed that the Indo-Aryan speakers were newcomers into India and have, there¬ 
fore, taken it for granted that “there must have been, from the earliest times, contacts 
between the Indo-Aryan invaders and the autochthonous population” (Kuiper [1967] 
1974, 141). Other linguistic groups are therefore presumed to have preceded them in 
the North of the subcontinent. As Emeneau (1954) puts it, “These invaders did not 

84 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

penetrate into a linguistic vacuum (282).” Approaching the issue on purely linguistic 
grounds, those opposing this assumption would have to argue that the areal features of 
South Asian languages are independent, spontaneous developments in the languages 
concerned and/or that these features have developed as a result of mutual contact other 
than that of a substratum nature. This latter possibility would seem to be a perfectly 
valid one if only because the South Asian languages are continuing to undergo the process 
of convergence. Indeed, some linguists go so far as to suggest that “if the direction of 
their development does not change in the future, the now observed tendency to develop 
the formal similarity may gain strength and result in the formation of new relationship 
ties and of a new language family, which will be neither Indo-European, nor Dravidian” 
(Andronov 1968, 13; see also Dasgupta, 1982, 126). 

This point, in my opinion, is crucial to this whole issue. If, in die modern and his¬ 
torical period that can be verified, linguistic convergence is an ongoing process that is 
obviously not the result of any bilingual substratum (although adstrata or other types of 
bilingualism may certainly be principal factors), then this certainly also could have been 
the case in the less-verifiable pre- and protohistoric period. In short, convergence, or 
any type of borrowing or similarities between languages, does not necessitate a situation 
of a linguistic substratum. 11 

Evidence of the Loanwords 

Just as the syntactical innovations of Indo-Aryan have been interpreted as evidence of a 
pre-Aryan linguistic presence, so have the existence of loanwords, ascribed to either 
Dravidian, Munda, and/or unknown origins, been considered proof that the Aryans 
imposed themselves on a native populace. Bishop Caldwell presented the first list of 
words “probably” borrowed by Sanskrit from Dravidian that he identified according to 
certain criteria, most of which hold good today, 12 and which were further refined by 
Burrow in 1946. 13 

Having applied his criteria, Caldwell found that the Dravidian loanwords he came 
up with did not consist of the essential aspects of a vocabulary—the primary words such 
as verb roots denoting basic actions, pronouns, body parts, and so on. Such basic terms 
are the most durable aspect of a language, even when exposed to major influences from 
an alien language family. Caldwell argued that had the pre-Aryan population of North 
India been Dravidian, it would have preserved at least some of its own primary Dravidian 
terms, which would have resurfaced in at least one or two of the northern vernaculars. 
This would especially have been the case in die hypothetical scenario involving a rela¬ 
tively tiny intrusion of Indo-Aryan speakers superimposed upon a massive population 
of Dravidian speakers. If these Dravidian speakers then adopted the language of the 
intruders, adjusting it with some of their own structural traits, then surely a few primary 
Dravidian words, particularly pronoun forms, also would have survived in some Indo- 
Aryan tongue. This was not what Caldwell found: the vocabulary borrowed consisted 
of words “remote from ordinary use.” 

Soon other lists of Dravidian loanwords in Sanskrit were compiled by scholars such 
as Gundert (1869) and Kittel (1894). In 1929, Bloch set the precedent for a practice 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 


that continues to the present day: he questioned the Dravidian etymologies for many of 
the Sanskrit words that had been proposed by these scholars, fearing that much ety¬ 
mologizing was not “self-evident” but “a matter of probability and to a certain extent, of 
faith” (743). He also made another interesting observation. Many of the Sanskrit words 
that were clearly loans had their equivalents in southern Dravidian languages. Whether 
or not the Aryans superimposed themselves on a Dravidian substratum in the North is 
one issue, but how could the Aryans in the North have been in contact with Dravidians 
from the South of the subcontinent? Bloch suggested that either the Dravidian languages 
themselves could have been intruders into India, in which case it could have been the 
Aryans who borrowed words from the Dravidian speakers who were en route to the sub¬ 
continent, rather than vice versa, or the words were increasingly borrowed into the written 
language from the vernaculars where they were in circulation (743). Since the Dravidian 
speakers are also generally considered immigrants into the subcontinent, this sugges¬ 
tion that loanwords could have been borrowed by Indo-Aryans from invading Dravidians, 
as opposed to by Dravidians from invading Indo-Aryans, is another possibility that has 
yet to receive scholarly attention 14 (although Witzel [forthcoming] is now also arguing 
for a similar possibility). 

An indigenous Aryan position might well take interest in Bloch’s suggestion that 
the lexical and other features shared by Indo-Aryan and Dravidian (or other languages) 
could well have been the result of Dravidian (or Munda) speakers migrating into an 
Indo-Aryan speaking area. This possibility will depend on chronology and other issues 
and will be discussed further later. Of some relevance, in this regard, is Southworth’s 
contention, (1979), based on a comparison of the lists of loans from Dravidian into 
Indo-Aryan and vice versa, that “these two lists both seem to suggest a rather wide range 
of cultural contacts, and that they do not show the typical (or perhaps stereotypical) one¬ 
sided borrowing relationship expected in a ‘colonial’ situation, with words for technol¬ 
ogy and high culture mosdy going in one direction and words for local flora and fauna 
mostly in the other (cf. English and Hindi, for example)” (196). In his opinion, “No 
picture of technological, cultural, or military dominance by either side emerges from an 
examination of these words” (204). This could support the consideration of adstratum 
influence between the languages. 

Another explanation Bloch considers, which P. Thieme was to find intriguing, was 
that individual literary men from the Deccan could have imported Dravidian terms into 
classical Sanskrit (in which case, many of the terms would be provincialisms rather than 
real borrowings). The massive amount of Sanskrit vocabulary borrowed from the North 
by the Dravidian languages, after all, would have been imported by individual Brahmanas 
from the North rather than as the result of any major movement of population. This is 
a very significant point. These individual Sanskrit-speaking Brahmans who went south 
were the cause of extensive lexical adoptions by the Dravidians, but this has nothing to 
do with linguistic substrata. The reverse possibility, of individual southerners going north 
and importing Dravidian lexica into Sanskrit, seemed to be substantiated for Bloch (1928- 
30, 744) by the fact that many of the Dravidian loans did not survive to be inherited by 
the later Indo-Aryan vernaculars. 15 The fact that later Pali and Hindi often maintained 
the Sanskrit forms rather than the Dravidian ones suggested to Bloch that the Sanskrit 
forms had always been die actual words in currency; the non-Aryan foreign synonyms, 

86 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

although appearing in Sanskrit texts, were artificial and temporary innovations. His 
remarks seem to be underscored in a more recent study by Masica, who also noticed 
that many Dravidian words in Sanskrit had left no living descendants in Hindi. 16 

Thieme, in a critique of Burrow, also questioned the assumption that the foreign 
words in Sanskrit must have been borrowed from a Dravidian substratum. Burrow, in 
a series of articles (1945, 1946, 1983), as well as in an appendix to his book The San¬ 
skrit Language, had compiled a list of approximately five hundred foreign words in the 
Rgveda that he considered to be loans predominantly from Dravidian. Thieme (1955) 
like Bloch, is much more inclined to ascribe most of them to borrowings from the ver¬ 
naculars that increasingly crept into the more elite Brahmanical circles eventually be¬ 
coming Sanskritized. He remarks: 

The bearers of the sacred language are obviously and professedly eager to keep their speech 
pure and unadulterated. . . . We have no evidence for speech contact with Dravidian- 
speaking people in the North of India in olden times: no Patanjali, Yaska gives us . . . 
any such indication. ... all the Dravidian languages known to us fairly bristle with loans 
from Sanskrit and the Aryan vernaculars. Dravidian literature in South India came into 
existence under the impulse and influence of Sanskrit literature and speech. Wherever 
there is a correspondence in the vocabularies of Sanskrit and Dravidian, there is a pre¬ 
sumption, to be removed only by specific argument, that Sanskrit has been the lender, 
Dravidian the borrower. ... 1 should consider it likely that. . . loans had first been given 
a homestead in a vernacular and penetrated thence into Sanskrit. If Patanjali (Mahabh. 

1.2.7-9) looks on a Magadhi word as a ‘barbarian’ ( mleccha ) how much more would he 
have despised a word of a completely different language? (438-439) 

That no native grammarians have recorded any awareness of a non-Sanskritic indig¬ 
enous population (although drey do draw attention to des'ya words) is significant. Thieme’s 
point is further bolstered by the fact that, to my knowledge, none of the earliest foreign¬ 
ers in India who left written records—the Greeks or the Chinese—made any reference to 
a subjugated population speaking a different language from the ruling elite, whether in 
domestic situations or in marginal geographic areas. Thieme is proposing that whatever 
words were undeniably loans could have infiltrated into the northern vernaculars some¬ 
how or other, perhaps as a result of individuals bringing them from the South, from 
where they surfaced into Sanskrit, just as loans circulate in any language. He then pro¬ 
ceeds to give alternative etymological explanations for some of the words Burrow had 
listed, preferring to derive them from vernaculars or from Indo-European word forms 
rather than from Dravidian. 17 In 1994, he again challenged many supposed Dravidian 
etymologies, this time from Mayrhofer’s Etymologisches Worterbuch, stating that “it is 
. . . quite legitimate to consider the possibility of Sanskrit borrowing from any non-Aryan 
Indian language. Yet, if a word can be explained easily from material extant in Sanskrit 
itself, there is little chance for such a hypothesis” (327). His doubts about many of the 
alleged Dravidian etymologies have been supported by scholars such as H. H. Hock 
(1975, 1984d) and R. P. Das (1995). 

The controversies between the “Dravidianists” and “Indo-Europeanists” on the ori¬ 
gin of unusual Vedic and Sanskrit etymologies, with a subsequent rise of an “Austro- 
Asiatic” contingent, has been a strongly contested issue. Thieme characterizes the activi¬ 
ties of some of his colleagues as a “zeal for hunting up Dravidian loans in Sanskrit” 
(1994, 327). From the other side, the advocates of a major Dravidian (and Munda) 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 87 

component in Sanskrit lexemes are not impressed by the “resort to tortuous reconstruc- 
tions in order to find, by hook or by crook, Indo-European explanations for Sanskrit 
words” (Burrow 1956, 321 ). 18 Kuiper (1991,91) feels such “dogged resistance” needs 
to be understood through the “psychological background,” which he traces back to the 
days when Sanskrit was the undisputed model language for comparative Indo-European 
studies. As far as he is concerned, the very fact that satisfactory etymologies have not 
been found after a century and a half of etymologizing is sufficient evidence in itself to 
suspect the Indo-European pedigree of a word. 

The fiercest controversy has naturally revolved around the oldest text, namely, the 
Rgveda since this preserves the earliest “real” linguistic evidence. Kuiper (1991) has laid 
claim to 380 foreign words, or 4 percent of die Rgvedic vocabulary (95). 19 This is dra¬ 
matically ambitious in comparison to any other previous claim. Of special interest in 
his lists are at least thirty-five non-Aryan names for individuals, families, and tribes— 
including several, such as the dasa Balbutha Taruksa, who were patrons of priests and 
therefore participated in Vedic culture (6-8). 20 Witzel (1999a) reckons that almost half 
of the fifty-odd tribal and clan names in the Rgveda have no Indo-Aryan or Indo-Euro¬ 
pean etymology. 21 Kuiper (1991) finds “clear traces of an influx of non-Aryan beliefs” 
that are “not so much a case of borrowing ... as rather an echo of a foreign religion 
being incidentally audible in die circles of the Rigvedic rsis” (16). In contrast to Southworth 
and Hock, he interprets the linguistic evidence as indicating that the social interaction 
took place at the lower end of the social echelon, not the highest. 22 He holds that these 
words have been borrowed from Old Dravidian, Old Munda, and several other lan¬ 
guages. It is also important to note that most of the foreign words in the Rgveda and 
Atharvaveda are rare or hapax legomena. In addition to lexical and cultural influence, he 
elaborately documents traces of patterns of foreign influences in phonology, morphol¬ 
ogy, and syntax, as well as the adaptation of foreign phonemes. Kuiper’s innovative and 
meticulous work is the result of perhaps half a century of research in this area. 

Emeneau (1980) in contrast, would seem to be relieved if scholars would agree on 
even one single loan: “If any such words can be found, even one or two, they will pro¬ 
vide secondary evidence [of a Dravidian substratum). ... I can only hope that the evi¬ 
dence for mayuura —as a RV borrowing from Dr. is convincing to scholars in general" 
(179-183). Hock (1996b) is reluctant to allow even this, noting that the Dravidian cog¬ 
nate mayil occurs in southern Dravidian languages, far from the northwestern lands of 
the Rgveda (38). Since Dravidian has a similar root denoting both ‘cat’ and ‘peacock’, 
and Sanskrit marjaraka means both ‘cat’ and ‘peacock’, Hock prefers to consider the 
word onomatopoeic. 23 In any event, linguists are quick to warn that “evidence for sub¬ 
stratum cannot rest on an isolated lexical item, but must be based on a coherent pat¬ 
tern” (Salmons 1992, 267). In this regard, it might be worth noting Hamp’s comments 
(1990b) regarding substratum identification: “We cannot fasten upon single facts. This 
means that we cannot seize upon a single isolated personal name. . . . we must have 
homomorphous distributions of multiple sets of equivalencies. It is the same formal 
requirement, of course, that we insist on for demonstration of genetic Lautgesetze.” The 
foreign features attributed to a substratum must be consistently perceptible over a range 
of data: “For acceptable substrata, when we finish stating these equivalencies we must 
make a cohesive statement of structural features which are to be assigned to those sum¬ 
maries of homomorphous equivalent sets. Only then can we say we have a substratum 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

worth talking about. Until those requirements have been fulfilled you may have an 
interesting breakfast observation, but you do not have an argument” (293). Establish¬ 
ing such consistent features is exactly what Kuiper has attempted to do. 

Kuiper’s work, in addition to compiling a list of loanwords, has attempted to iden¬ 
tify systematic patterns of non-lndo-Aryan linguistic features in the Rgveda, particularly 
in phonology and morphology, that can contribute to identifying features typical of the 
underlying foreign language(s) that influenced Sanskrit. This aspect of his work is more 
problematic to the Indigenous Aryan position than his list of foreign lexica. Many of 
these features, such as some of the prefixes, point to Munda. These “are unknown in 
Dravidian but were common in Austro-Asiatic. . . . According to some scholars Munda 
was never spoken west of Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and eastern Maharashtra. . . . 
The obvious occurrence of Old Munda names in the Rigveda points to the conclusion 
that either this statement should be revised or that some parts of the Rigveda . . . stem 
from eastern parts of North India” (Kuiper 1991, 39-40). Michael Witzel has predi¬ 
cated more far-reaching conclusions on Kuiper’s observations, which will be discussed 

Nonetheless, Kuiper’s etymologizing has been sharply criticized by Rahul Peter Das, 
who, in keeping with his predecessors, challenged the “foreignness” of many of Kuiper’s 
non-lndo-Aryan words. Das (1995) warns that one should not assume that “problem¬ 
atic words are foreign—they might be, but they need not be, for not being able to find 
a clear Indo-European etymology does not automatically imply that an Indo-European 
origin is impossible." As far as he is concerned, there is “not a single case in which a 
communis opinio has been found confirming the foreign origin of a Rgvedic (and prob¬ 
ably Vedic in general) word.” The considerable differences of opinion “may be due to 
the fact that many of the arguments for (or against) such foreign origin are often not the 
results of impartial and thorough research, but rather of (often wistful) statements of 
faith” (208; italics in original). Das is here echoing the acknowledgment of Emeneau 
(1980) that vocabulary loans from Dravidian into Indo-Aryan are “in fact all merely 
‘suggestions.’ Unfortunately, all areal etymologies are in the last analysis unprovable, 
are ‘acts of faith’. ... It is always possible, e.g., to counter a suggestion of borrowing 
from one of the indigenous language families by suggesting that there has been borrow¬ 
ing in the other direction” (177). Das (1995), who accepts the external origin of Indo- 
Aryan on grounds other than the substratum hypothesis, points out that there is “not 
a single bit of uncontroversial evidence on the actual spread of Dravidian and Austro- 
Asiatic speakers in pre-historic times, so that any statement on Dravidian and Austro- 
Asiatic in Rgvedic times is nothing but speculation” (218). He reiterates the caution 
that the material being compared is separated by vast amounts of time and distance, 
often with scant regard being paid to the need for extensive philological investigation in 
establishing the exact semantics of dubious words, particularly in the case of Dravidian 
and Austro-Asiatic. 

One study conducted in 1971 gives an indication of the extent to which scholars can 
disagree. In his doctoral thesis at Poona University, A. S. Acharya took all the Sanskrit 
words that had been assigned a Dravidian etymology over the years, resulting in a list 
of over twelve hundred words said to be borrowings from Dravidian. 24 He then searched 
for these words in Mayrhofer’s etymological dictionary and found that Mayrhofer had 
accepted only 25 percent of the words as being Dravidian with any degree of certainty 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 89 

(Acharya 1971, 15-74). Along the same lines, he extracted all the Sanskrit words that 
had been assigned a Munda derivation by scholars and arrived at over one thousand 
different words. 25 Here, too, he found that Mayrhofer had accepted only 21 percent of 
these words as borrowings from Munda that had any degree of certainty. When we 
bear in mind that scholars such as Thieme and Hock consider even Mayrhofer’s Dravidian 
etymologies to have been awarded far too liberally, the differences of opinion are con¬ 
siderable. Such problems are not unique to South Asia: Salmons (1992, 266) refers to 
scholars who have attempted to deny the role of substratum on Germanic on the grounds 
that patient etymological work could eventually reveal Indo-European forms for most of 
the items in question. 

On a different note, there are also methodological problems with the often quoted 
idea—outlined, for example, by Burrow (1968c, 326)—that there seems to have been a 
small number of foreign words in the Rgveda, which increased marginally in the other 
Vedas, grew considerably in the later Vedic literature, and peaked in the Epics and 
Puranas, before dwindling in the Prakrits and new Indo-Aryan languages. These data fit 
neatly with the generally accepted scenario of pre-Vedic-speaking Indo-Aryans intruding 
into an area inhabited by speakers of other languages. It suggests that by the time the 
Aryans had composed the Vedic hymns only a few indigenous words had permeated 
the texts. As the process of bilingualism developed (involving both the indigenes in the 
north of the subcontinent preserving some of their native lexicon as they adopted the 
Aryan languages, and post-first generation Aryans themselves utilizing non-Indo-Euro¬ 
pean words as they merged with the local people), the loanwords increased, namely, 
during the Epic period. Finally, there were no more bilingual speakers left—everyone 
had adopted a form of later Indo-Aryan—at which time the appearance of foreign lexemes 
appears to cease as evidenced by the decrease of loans in the later Indo-Aryan texts. 

This idea of the number of loanwords in Sanskrit increasing and then decreasing 
seems to be methodologically untenable. First of all, whose lists do we go by—Kuiper’s 
(380 loans in the Rgveda) or Thieme’s (no loans at all)? Second, even if we allow that 
the number of loanwords in Sanskrit did increase in progressively later texts, it is mis¬ 
leading to conclude that this was the result of more loans filtering through. The num¬ 
ber of loans has to be calculated as a ratio of the total number of words in the text, and 
the percentage of foreign words in earlier texts has to be compared with the percentage of 
foreign words in later texts to determine whether the number of loans was increasing, 
decreasing, or, as is quite likely, more or less constant. To my knowledge, no such study 
has been attempted. Moreover, Emeneau (1980, 184) recognized that the claim that 
New Indo-Aryan had ceased to borrow was erroneous, a conclusion he formed simply 
by looking at the number of New Indo-Aryan entries in Turner’s Comparative Dictio¬ 
nary of Indo-Aryan Languages that had been assigned a Dravidian origin. Masica (1979) 
found that the “non-Dravidian, non-Munda element in the Indo-Aryan lexicon persists, 
and even grows” (138). There are large numbers of such foreign words in the modern 
Indie languages. As I stressed previously, the syntactical and lexical convergence of the 
South Asian languages is continuing and increasing to this very day to such a degree 
that some scholars have suggested that a new language family is developing in South 
Asia, distinct from both Indo-European and Dravidian. This continual process of ac¬ 
cepting foreign words and syntactical features (possibly even at an increasing rate) in 
New Indo-Aryan is not the result of any foreign linguistic substratum, so it is perfectly 

90 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

legitimate to ask why this had to be the case in the protohistoric past. If adstratum can 
account for such interactions in the present, one would need to produce a convincing 
explanation for why this could not have been the case in the protohistorical period. 
Moreover, even if for argument’s sake it could be established that the percentage of 
foreign words in the Rgveda was considerably less than that of later texts, the explana¬ 
tion could well be a sociolinguistic (i.e., cultural) one. Many scholars such as Thieme 
have drawn attention to the linguistic puritanism of the Vedic texts. These are sacerdo¬ 
tal hymns describing ritualistic techniques that were preserved by a culturally distinct 
group of specialists who, like any elite, took pains to isolate their speech from common 
vulgarisms. The Epics and Puranas deal with the real world—tribes, geography, history, 
intrigue, war, and the religion of the people. Naturally, the vocabulary in these latter 
texts will be far less conservative and more representative of the language of the street, 
so to speak. One is not compelled to interpret any possible disparate proportion of 
non-Aryan words in different genres of texts as proof of a linguistic substratum. 

Terms for Flora in Indie Languages 

Nonetheless, even when the most generous allowance is made in favor of the Indo- 
Europeanists, few would deny that there are many words borrowed from non-Aryan 
languages in Sanskrit texts. Dravidian and Munda are not the only languages that have 
been considered as possible sources: the difficulty in tracing the etymologies of many of 
these words has caused most linguists who specialize in this area to propose that many 
of the features and loans in Sanskrit must have come from languages that have disap¬ 
peared without a trace. 26 Burrow (1956) goes so far as to suggest that “it may very well 
turn out that the number of such words which cannot be explained will outnumber 
those which can be. This is the impression one gets, for instance, from the field of 
plant names, since so far only a minority of this section of the non-Aryan words has 
been explained from these two linguistic families” (327). 

This point is significant, particularly if these are local plants native to the Northwest. 
If the Aryans were indigenous to India, why would they have borrowed names of native 
plants from other language families instead of possessing their own terms composed from 
Indo-Aryan roots or derivatives? 27 This discrepancy would be natural if the Aryans were 
newcomers to the subcontinent, in which case they would readily adopt the names of 
unfamiliar local fauna and animals current among the native population. Kuiper (1991) 
finds that the words from his list—which contain about a dozen words that can be directly 
connected with agriculture—“testify to a strong foreign impact in almost every aspect of life 
of an agrarian population. ... an (originally) non-Aryan agrarian population was more or 
less integrated into a society of a predominandy different character” (15). 

The “different character” referred to by Kuiper reflects the common opinion among 
scholars that the economy of the Indo-Aryans is one of predominantly nomadic pasto- 
ralism. This, to a great extent, is predicated on the fact that the Indo-Iranian terms for 
agriculture were different from the set of corresponding terms shared in the western 
Indo-European languages. Scholars since at least the time of Schrader (1890) have con¬ 
cluded from this that “it becomes impossible to doubt that the Indo-Europeans, when 
they made their first appearance in history, were still possessed with nomadic tenden- 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 91 

cies” (282). From such a nomadic genesis, the western branches and eastern branches 
subsequently encountered agriculture after they had gone their separate ways to the west 
and east, respectively, and borrowed or coined their respective sets of different terms 
independently. The Indo-Aryans, from this perspective, were still nomadic when they 
arrived in South Asia, although they practiced nonsedentary agriculture (i.e., they en¬ 
gaged in agriculture for periods of the year, according to seasonal and other factors, 
before moving on). Most Vedic philologists believe that this hypothesis is supported by 
the economic culture reflected in the Vedic texts. Nowadays, this lexical difference be¬ 
tween the eastern and western indo-European languages is explained by the polycentric 
origin of agriculture from two or three food-producing centers (Makkay 1988; Masica 
1979). Moreover, Indo-Europeanists (Diebold, 1992; Mallory, 1997) do argue that the 
proto-Indo-Europeanists were agriculturists. 

Southworth (1988) determines that the agriculture of the Vedic Aryans was appar¬ 
ently limited to barley and beans in the earliest texts. Rice and sesame appear in later 
texts, and wheat later still: “These facts support the view that the earliest Vedic texts 
were associated with a mountain-dwelling, primarily herding people who were unac¬ 
quainted with the type of floodplain agriculture practiced by the Harappans.” The fact 
that some of the products cultivated in the Indus Valley—wheat, cotton, sesame, dates, 
and rice—are absent from the earliest Vedic texts “is evidence for a lack of substantial 
contact between these people and the Harappans” (663). The assumption here, which 
must be kept in mind, is that the fact that the Rgveda happens not to mention rice, 
wheat, and so on, indicates that these items were unknown to the earliest Indo-Aryans. 
Southworth’s conclusions should be considered, provided one keeps in mind that the 
text is not a compendium of agricultural terms; one must be wary of drawing too far- 
reaching conclusions based on argument! ex silentio , 28 

As 1 will discuss more fully later, the borrowing and coining words for flora and 
fauna peculiar to India, as opposed to possessing ‘primitive’ terms for them (i.e., their 
possessing an Indo-European root) generally indicates to linguists that the item in ques¬ 
tion is new and unfamiliar to the speakers of the Indo-Aryan languages. In his research, 
Masica found 80 percent of the agricultural terms in Hindi to be non-Aryan—55 per¬ 
cent of which were of unknown origin (some inherited from Sanskrit). What is espe¬ 
cially important to note here is that out of the total number of items in the survey, only 

4.5 percent were Austro-Asiatic—some of which Masica acknowledges could have been 
borrowings from Indian contacts with the Mon-Kmer peoples in Southeast Asia rather 
than from the Kolarians of India proper (Masica 1991, 129-139). 

This insignificant number caused him to concur with Burrow’s opinion that the 
Munda languages could not have been present in the Northwest of India in prehistoric 
times. Had they been a principal component in any pre-Aryan linguistic substratum, 
the number should have been far greater. The same would apply to Dravidian’s poor 
showing. Masica’s study (1991) presents a further obstacle to theories proposing a 
Dravidian linguistic substratum in North India—only 7.6 percent of agricultural terms 
in Hindi have Dravidian etymologies. Moreover, “a significant portion of the sug¬ 
gested Dravidian and Austroasiatic etymologies is uncertain” (1 34). Thus, 4.5 and 

7.6 percent are generous. This lacuna forces him to wonder whether the Indus Valley 
might not have been multilingual and, in concordance with numerous linguists since 
the time of Caldwell, to postulate the existence of another unknown language (or 

92 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

languages) existing as linguistic substrata in Indo-Aryan times (138). He labels this 
tongue “language x.” 

Southworth (1979) is also specific in noting that the terms for flora did not come 
from Dravidian. Scouring the work of Burrow and Emeneau, he extracted fifty-four words 
for botanical terms, including trees, cereals, edible gourds, spices, and beans, that have 
been considered loans common to both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. So Dravidian was 
not the lender for these botanical terms. Nor was Munda: out of these loans, Southworth 
(1979) finds only five that are shared with Munda, causing him to suggest that “the 
presence of other ethnic groups, speaking other languages, must be assumed for the 
period in question” (205), with hardly “the slightest hints” as to what these languages 
might have been. 

Curiously, in contrast to Masica’s results showing that 80 percent of the agricultural 
vocabulary in Hindi was non-Indo-Aryan, a study conducted by Wojtilla (1986) using 
the material offered by a few special vocabularies of agricultural terms in the Hindi belt, 
coupled with his own collection of terms from the vicinity of Varanasi, seemed to pro¬ 
duce conflicting results. Wojtilla found that “the agricultural vocabulary so collected 
mostly consists of tatsama and t adbhava words already known in Sanskrit and Prakrits” 
(28). The article does not discuss why this finding contradicts Masica’s (which Wojtilla 
uses as a model), but this suggests that further extensive analysis of this issue is in 
order. Wojtilla does concur with Masica on another point, however, which is that 
“Dravidian influence is less than has been expected by specialists” (34). 

The matter of loanwords is another area almost completely overlooked by Indigenous 
Aryanists. S. G. Talageri is the only scholar I have encountered who attempts to ad¬ 
dress some of the issues connected with linguistic substrata, but he seems unaware of 
most of the work that has been done in this area. His sole source seems to be Chatterji’s 
Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, wherein there is a short list of about 
forty words of “probable Dravidian origin” (Talageri 1993, 42). Talageri searches for 
each item in Buck’s dictionary of synonyms and finds about 20 percent of them have 
been assigned Indo-European derivatives. 29 He then proceeds to try his hand at estab¬ 
lishing a few Sanskrit etymologies for some of the remaining words, 30 finally conclud¬ 
ing that “the overwhelming majority of Sanskrit names for Indian plants and animals 
are derived from Sanskrit and Indo-European roots” (205). This is a rather sweeping 
conclusion that does not seem to be based on an awareness of most of the basic mate¬ 
rial in this area—over a century of research in the area of Sanskrit loanwords deserves a 
less cursory dismissal. 

Talageri (1993) does accept the existence of some loanwords from Austro-Asiatic and 
Dravidian and accounts for their existence by contending that “the Dravidian languages 
were always spoken in South India, . . . the Indo-European languages were always and 
originally spoken in North India, and the Austro-Asiatic languages were always spoken 
in north-eastern and east-central India” (206). He remarks that many of the plants and 
animals must have had geographically specific areas of cultivation and natural habitats 
so that “if the common name for any Indian plant is proved to be of Austric or Dravidian 
origin, it will help in locating the part of India in which the plant had its origin” (206). 
Although no language can have existed anywhere in the world since all eternity, the 
point is an interesting one: Masica (1979) remarks that “there is really no Indian agri¬ 
culture as such, but a group of related regional complexes differing in important details, 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 93 

including inventories of cultivated plants. Sanskrit, being a supraregional language, 
incorporates terms reLating to various regional features” (58). Since Talageri seems largely 
unaware of the significant number, or etymological nature, of the non-Aryan words for 
plants and animals found in Sanskrit texts, he offers only a single example in support 
of his premise (eld ‘cardamom’ front the Tamil, a spice thought to have originated in 

Nonetheless, this method, pursued with methodological rigor as Southworth (forth¬ 
coming) has done, will be an important contribution in this area. Agricultural terms are 
an essential part of the data concerning Aryan origins that Indigenous Atyanists have 
to address. As it stands, many of the words in Sanskrit for domestic animals and their 
products are generally accepted as Indo-European derivatives, but few agricultural or 
botanical terms are. Masica’s study found a significant percentage of Hindi words con¬ 
nected with animal husbandry were Indo-European or derivatives thereof, but fewer 
cereals, pulses, roots, fruits, and vegetables could be accounted for in this way. Most 
scholars have quite reasonably inferred from such data that pastoral nomads entered 
into the subcontinent with their culture of livestock herding and encountered strange 
local flora whose names they had to borrow from the indigenous people. Such evidence 
is an important ingredient in the Aryan Invasion hypothesis. To my mind, the non- 
Indo-Aryan nature of the words for the flora of North India is one of the few truly 
compelling aspects of the entire substratum theory. 

However, even in this regard, the existence of a pre-Indo-Aryan linguistic substra¬ 
tum does not have to be the only explanation for the many botanical terms in Sanskrit 
that do not have Indo-European etymologies. Scanning the gamut of Sanskrit texts from 
different chronological periods, Southworth (forthcoming) finds that from a total 121 
terms for plants, only a little over a third have Indo-European etymologies, and an ad¬ 
ditional third have unknown etymologies. First of all, there is much more work to be 
done in scrutinizing the etymologies and compositions of problematic words—we have 
seen how dramatically scholars have disagreed with each other. The task is a daunting 
one, however, and a large proportion of words are likely to remain untraceable. With 
regard to such recalcitrant terms, because foreign botanical items (millet, sorghum, etc.) 
have been continually imported into the subcontinent since time immemorial, it is more 
than probable that some have maintained their original foreign names. In many cases, 
these non-Indo-Aryan designations could be traceable to other language families, and 
the linguistic history of such words could tell us much about the origin of their refer¬ 
ents. In this category of words, then, it is the plant, not the Aryans, that would be the 
intruders to the subcontinent. 31 In addition, the same basic possibilities outlined ear¬ 
lier for Dravidian and Munda linguistic relationships need to be considered: to what 
extent can these unknown items ascribed to “language x” be the result of loans, or 
adstratum relationship between Indo-Aryan tribes and other unknown ones, rather than 
the result of substratum. 7 

Even within the subcontinent itself, plants and vegetables need to be correlated with 
their areas of origin to see whether their names can be connected with the linguistic 
groups known to have resided there. Paleobotany has a potentially significant role to 
play in this type of “linguistic archaeology.” The problems involved, however, are daunt¬ 
ing—as Polome (1990b) notes, “one is rather reluctant to extrapolate from relatively recent 
data to archaic ecology” (276). Southworth has taken some significant steps in this re- 

94 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

gard. His forthcoming book Linguistic Archaeology of the South Asian Subcontinent 
combines paleobotany with etymological analysis in an attempt to illuminate the his¬ 
torical relationship between plants and human societies in South Asia. He provides 
extensive lists of plants known in Sanskrit texts, determines their etymologies where 
possible, and identifies their probable places of origin. 

Southworth lists six plants that are believed to have come from different parts of the 
African subcontinent (finger millet, sesame, bulrush millet, sorghum, cowpea, and okra). 
He finds that another six names with Dravidian etymologies refer to plants whose ori¬ 
gins lie to the east of India, suggesting that they may have been transported by sea to 
peninsular India by Dravidian speakers (Mahdi’s study [1998] on the transmission of 
Southeast Asian cultigens also finds that, with some exceptions, “the plants and crops 
from Southeast Asia acquired new names in the process of transmission to India” [411]). 
Southworth further identifies seven items (karpasa ‘cotton’; kahguni ‘foxtail millet’; kadala 
‘banana’; tambula ‘betel’; nimbu ‘lemon’; marica, ‘pepper’; and sarkard ‘sugarcane’) that 
are believed to have originated in Austroasiatic languages. Most of these too, predict¬ 
ably, have their domestic origin in the east of India. In short, we have a long history of 
plants being imported into the subcontinent. 

More important, Southworth introduces the category of plants that may have origi¬ 
nated in India. From these he identifies nine plant terms shared by Old Indo-Aryan 
and Dravidian where the direction of borrowing is not clear. These suggest to him that 
the terms may have been borrowings into Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, both of which he 
considers to be intrusive, from one or more previous, indigenous languages. However, 
the actual point of origin of most of these plants either is uncertain or occurred in the 
South (cardamom) or the Northeast (mango), in areas where die historical existence of 
non-Indo-Aryan languages is not under dispute. It is plants that are native to the North¬ 
west that are critical for this discussion. 

Apart from these, Southworth’s work clearly reveals a history of plant importation 
into the Indian subcontinent. However, the importation of foreign plants need not denote 
the foreignness of Indo-Aryan speakers. Indo-Aryan speakers in India still to this day 
import and cultivate new crops and retain their foreign names, as they have done through¬ 
out history. One need only go to one’s local supermarket to experience this principle: 
exotic fruits from exotic countries are imported into our societies (and sometimes even 
transplanted and grown locally) while nonetheless retaining their original foreign names, 
which soon become part of our own vocabularies. Therefore, although the foreign names 
for flora may very well be indicative of a pre-Indo-Aryan substratum, this need not be 
the only explanation; these terms could simply be loans denoting items imported into 
a preexisting Indo-Aryan-speaking area. Only the etymologies of terms for plants indig¬ 
enous to the Northwest of the subcontinent have the potential to be conclusive. If the 
Indo-Aryans were native to the Northwest, one would expect Indo-Aryan terms for plants 
native to the Northwest. If such plants could be demonstrated as having non-Indo-Aryan 
etymologies, then the case for substratum becomes compelling. However, Southworth’s 
lists show no instance of plants native to the Northwest that have non-Indo-Aryan ety¬ 

This is the essential point. If the Aryans were indigenous to at least the Northwest 
of the subcontinent, one would expect that there should be a higher percentage of, if 
not Indo-European (since, as will be discussed in the next chapter, items unique to India 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 


would not be expected to have cognates elsewhere), at least Indo-Aryan-derived names 
for plants known to be common in the area inhabited by the compilers of the Rgveda 
(provided these terms exhibit permitted Indo-European forms). As a side note, it is also 
important to repeat that if the etymological obscurity of plant names in Sanskrit texts is 
to be considered detrimental to the case of the Indigenous Aryanists, it is equally detri¬ 
mental to the case of anyone promoting Dravidian (or Munda) as the indigenous pre- 
Aryan language of the Northwest. Most of the plant names are not traceable to Munda 
or Dravidian either (although, of course, Dravidian or Munda could have preexisted 
Indo-Aryan and passed into Sanskrit terms that they had borrowed from the “language 
x” that preceded them, in turn). 

Also of particular relevance are the etymologies in Sanskrit texts for the terms for 
plants that have been found in the archaeological record of the Northwest in strata that 
date prior to when the Indo-Aryans are supposed to have entered the subcontinent, 
namely, before the second millennium b.c.e. Southworth’s study lists six plants from 
the pre-Harappan and Early Harappan period: yava ‘barley’; tula ‘cotton’; kharjura ‘date’; 
draksa ‘grape’; badara ‘jujube’; and godhitma ‘wheat’. All of these plant products were 
found in Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, around the sixth millennium b.c.e. except grape (Kash¬ 
mir, late third millennium b.c.e.) and jujube (Mundigak in Baluchistan, fourth millen¬ 
nium b.c.e.). From these, only barley has a clear Indo-European etymology. Godhitma 
(lit. ‘cowsmoke’, godum in Dravidian) seems to be a folk etymology, which Witzel con¬ 
siders a Sanskritization (and Dravidianization) of a Near Eastern loanword (Proto-Semitic 
* hant, Old Egyptian xnd). Four of the terms seem etymologically unaccountable from 
Indo-European or Indo-Aryan roots. 

This evidence is problematic for the Indigenous point of view. If the Indo-Europe¬ 
ans had come from the Northwest of the subcontinent, one would expect that the plants 
cultivated there since the sixth millennium b.c.e. would have Indo-European etymolo¬ 
gies, which would then have evolved into Indo-Aryan forms. The only way to otherwise 
account for the four items with foreign etymologies might be to argue that since all of 
these plants (with the exception, perhaps, of dates) might have been imports into South 
Asia (i.e., they have been found in earlier archaeological contexts outside the subconti¬ 
nent), the original foreign names from their places of origin could have been retained 
throughout prehistory. After having been transmitted down through die centuries, such 
names eventually surfaced in the Vedic texts as foreign words, or were assigned folk 

Words consist of roots, suffixes, and endings (the word singers has a root sing, a 
suffix -er, and an ending -s). A new formation or coinage refers to a word that is San¬ 
skrit in form (i.e., with known Indo-Aryan morphological units such as suffixs or pre¬ 
fixes) but that either does not contain as Indo-European root or contains morphological 
units that are Post Indo-European. Such later developments do not necessarily reveal an 
ancient Indo-European etymology but might suggest recent coinage and therefore immi¬ 
gration into a new area (although new formations do not always denote substratum, 
since there is nothing preventing indigenous people from continually coining new words 
that reflect the linguistic developments extant at different chronological periods). The 
safest way of determining whether a word is a loan is from the root. Briefly, Indo-Euro¬ 
pean roots are of the forms (s)(C)CeC(C/s), where C is a consonant, ( ) is an optional 
consonant -C- is a standard Indo-European vowel (in the ablaut series e/o/0/e/o out- 

96 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

lined in chapter 3), and s is a sibilant. There are, however, certain limitations in the 
consonant combinations of the roots. The following combinations, for example, are 
generally not tolerated in an Indo-European root: two voiced consonants (deg), unvoiced 
and aspirated consonants (tegh or dhek) and two identical consonants (pep), Also, the b 
consonant is very rare. A word not fitting the basic Indo-European root pattern is an 
immediate and obvious candidate for being a non-Indo-European loan. Thus, the name 
Balbutha is a clear non-Indo-European, non-Indo-Aryan term. A few points should be 
borne in mind before insisting that unfamiliar botanical words in Sanskrit are, of ne¬ 
cessity, proof of a non-Aryan linguistic substratum. As Masica (1979) points out from 
his study of agricultural terms in Hindi: “It is not a requirement that the word be con¬ 
nected with a root, of course: there are many native words in Sanskrit as in all lan¬ 
guages that cannot be analyzed’’ (61). This inscrutability of certain terms is especially 
prominent in terms for flora. C. D. Buck (1949), who compiled a dictionary of syn¬ 
onyms in the principal Indo-European languages, remarks that for most Indo-European 
trees, “the root connections are mostly obscure” (528). Likewise, the same applies to die 
inherited names of animals (135). Friedrich (1970), in his study on Indo-European 
trees, found only three roots that could be “cogently connected with a verbal root. . . . 
the great majority of PIE tree names were . . . unanalyzable nominal roots, and . . . 
for their reconstruction the most relevant branches of linguistics are phonology and 
semantics” (155). 

The general inscrutability of terms in Indo-European is an important point: Sanskrit 
words for plants and animals do not automatically have to be considered foreign and 
rejected as possibly being Indo-Aryan due to dubious derivation because obscure ety¬ 
mological pedigrees would appear to be the norm for most plant and animal terms in 
Proto-Indo-European in general (this could, of course, be explained by postulating that 
the Proto-Indo-Europeans were themselves intrusive into whatever area was their home¬ 
land prior to their dispersal and borrowed terms for fauna and flora from the preexist¬ 
ing substratum in that area). 33 Talageri (1993) comments in this regard that “unless 
one is to presume that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were not acquainted with any animals 
or plants at all, one has to accept that etymologically obscure names may be ‘what were 
at first colloquial or even slang words,’ and that etymological obscurity need not neces¬ 
sarily indicate a non-Indo-European source unless such a source . . . can be specifically 
. . . demonstrated” (206). One must be cautious of too-hastily branding a word as 
non-Indo-European simply because one has not been successful in establishing an 
Indo-European etymology. Talageri also makes the caveat, in the undeniable instances 
in which a term for an item is demonstrably a loanword, that such borrowing does not 
necessarily indicate a lack of prior acquaintance with that item; there may be cultural or 
other reasons for the adoption. Masica (1979) illustrates this point by remarking that 
the foreign name for an item may replace an older indigenous name—French ‘pigeon’ 
has replaced the older Germanic ‘dove’ (61) in English, for example, but this has noth¬ 
ing to do with linguistic substrata or with prior ignorance of the object. Folk etymolo¬ 
gies can also replace older terms—Vedic ibha, for example, has been replaced by the 
popular folk etymology of hastin— ‘the one with a hand’. On the other hand, foreign 
words can be made to appear indigenous by Sanskritizing them or assigning a new 
Sanskritic name to their referent—a practice Sanskrit grammarians were expert at. In 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 97 

such an instance, a word derived from Indo-Aryan may be a later gloss over an original 
non-Aryan term. 

As an aside, one wonders whether, if all branches of the Indo-European language 
family (Balto-Slavic, Italic, Germanic, etc.) had preserved ancient corpora of texts dating 
back to at least the early second millennium b.c.e., one might riot have found that they 
all preserved evidences of foreign floral, faunal and other typical indicators of substrata. 
Where would one have placed the homeland if the areas where all the Indo-European 
languages are spoken were to be eliminated by the logic used to eliminate the North¬ 
west of the subcontinent? While this may well be an unwarranted flight of fancy, it 
seems fair to point out that the homeland candidacy of the Volga Valley steppes, for 
one, is actually advantaged by the absence of ancient textual sources in the Indo-Euro¬ 
pean languages spoken in that area (such as Balto-Slavic) that might well have proved 
detrimental to their case were they to have been preserved and discovered. The same 
holds true for other postulated homelands. 

Returning to the Rgveda, Bloch’s and Thieme’s proposals also deserve to be kept in 
mind—many peculiar words are quite likely to have had their origin in the Prakrits or 
other “low” culture vernaculars. This is especially pertinent in the case of plants and 
other agricultural terms, since such words would have been the daily subject matter of 
the tribes and “lower” social groups who tilled the soil, gathered the flora and herbs, 
and dealt with animals. These tribes may have picked up foreign plants and their terms 
from their wanderings and trade interactions with other language groups. Kuiper (1955), 
who has classified the foreign words according to the various spheres of human life in 
order to estimate their general character, found that “the vast majority of the Rigvedic 
loan words belong to the spheres of domestic and agricultural life. They belong not 
only to the popular speech . . . but to the specific language of an agrarian population” 
(185). Although Kuiper sees this population as one preceding tire Indo-Aryan-speaking 
one, the issue at stake is how to preclude the possibility that these people might always 
have been speakers of Indo-Aryan dialects, albeit saturated with a ‘deshi’ folk lexicon, 
much of it etymologically unexplainable with our present resources. Sociolinguistics is 
likely to have a role to play here. These may not be the types of people likely to be over¬ 
concerned about preserving pristine speech forms (which could well explain why plant 
and animal forms in general are etymologically indeterminate). Nomadic tribes, per¬ 
haps trading animal and faunal products between different regions and language groups, 
easily could have been the bearers of loanwords connected to the merchandise they 
bartered. As discussed earlier, flora and fauna are precisely the types of items that are 
continually imported into new environments to this very day, often retaining their for¬ 
eign names. Of course, certain things are more likely to be imported than others: edible 
items or flowering blossoms would likely be more amenable to trade than trees, for 
example, but this possibility has not recieved adequate attention. 

There is ample evidence of foreign personages and tribes in the Vedic period. Kuiper 
lists some twenty-six names of Vedic individuals who have non-Indo-Aryan names, with 
which Mayrhofer concurs (Kuiper 1991, 6-7). Witzel (forthcoming a) points out that 
twenty-two out of fifty Rgvedic tribal names are not Indo-Aryan, with a majority of them 
occurring in later books. He sees these as direct takeovers of local names of tribes or 
individuals inhabiting the subcontinent before the arrival of the Indo-Aryans. While 

98 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

this may well be the most economical explanation, one nonetheless needs to eliminate 
the possibility, parallel to the one outlined throughout this section, that such tribes and 
individuals may have been itinerant individuals or groups intruding upon a preexisting 
Indo-Aryan community, as opposed to intruding Indo-Aryan-speaking groups intrud¬ 
ing upon non-Indo-Aryan ones. It seems relevant, in this regard, that Witzel (forthcom¬ 
ing a) notes that many of these names have not survived even in the Atharvaveda and 
Yajurveda mantras, which could be taken to underscore their transience. 

Place-Names and River Names 

The non-Indo-Aryan nature of the terms and names noted earlier also has to be juxta¬ 
posed with the fact that the place-names and river names in northern India are almost 
all Indo-Aryan. These names are, to my mind, the single most important element in 
considering the existence of a non-Indo-Aryan substratum position. Unlike people, tribes, 
material items, flora, and fauna, they cannot relocate or be introduced by trade (although 
their names can be transferred by immigrants). In other words, it is difficult to exclude 
the possibility that the foreign personal and material names in the Rgveda were intru¬ 
sive into a preexisting Indo-Aryan area as opposed to vice versa. This argument of lexi¬ 
cal transiency can much less readily be used in the matter of foreign place-names. Place- 
names tend to be among the most conservative elements in a language. Moreover, it is 
a widely attested fact that intruders into a geographic region often adopt the names of 
rivers and places that are current among the peoples that preceded them. Even if some 
such names are changed by the immigrants, some of the previous names are invariably 
retained (e.g., the Mississippi river compared with the Hudson, Missouri state com¬ 
pared with New England). 

In the 1950s Hans Krahe analyzed the river names in central Europe and found 
them to be Indo-European. 34 This evidence has been used to argue that the homeland 
must have been in central Europe, since had the Indo-Europeans intruded into this 
area from elsewhere, they would have borrowed names from the local non-Indo-Euro- 
pean groups that preceded them. More recendy, Theo Vennemann (1994) has argued 
that these river names are actually not Indo-European at all, thereby suggesting that the 
Indo-Europeans were intruders into the area after all, who adopted the local hydronymic 
and toponymic forms, since “toponyms are rarely changed, they are merely adapted” 
(264). In both cases, the assumption is drat place names are conservative. 

With this in mind, it is significant that there are very few non-Indo-Aryan names for 
rivers and places in the North of the Indian subcontinent, which is very unusual for migrants 
intruding into an alien language-speaking area. Of course, it could be legitimately argued 
that this is due to the Aryans’ Sanskritizing the names of places and rivers in the North¬ 
west (although this raises the issue of why the local flora and other names were was not 
likewise Sanskritized). In the hydronomy of England, Celtic names are fewer in the east, 
but they are preserved in major rivers (Hainsworth 1972, 45). On the other hand, they 
become more frequent in the center, and more numerous in the west, a pattern that can 
be correlated with the historical data on Saxon settlement, which would have been dens¬ 
est in the east, thereby explaining die fewer Celtic names in that area. Witzel finds the 
same holds true in Nepal: “The whole west of the country has been Indo-Aryanized thor- 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 99 

oughly and early enough ... as to eliminate most traces of earlier Tibeto-Burmese” (218). 
Such non-Indo-Aryan names become more visible in other parts of the country. All this 
is of comparative use to support the idea of Indo-Aryan migrations. 

In terms of the oldest attested Indo-Aryan period, Witzel (1999) has done extensive 
work on river names and place-names in the Rgveda, from which I will focus on the 
Northwest. Witzel finds almost all the place-names in the Rgveda, which are few in 
number, are Indo-Aryan, or at least Sanskritized. In his estimation, “most of the forms 
are easily analysable new formations, so typical of settlement in a new territory” (368), 
While this is a significant point, the lack of non-Indo-Aryan terms for toponomy and 
hydronomy in this area immediately deprives us of essential data that have been funda¬ 
mental in establishing the existence of substrata in other languages. As a point of con¬ 
trast, classical Greek maintains only 40 names (from 140 toponyms in Homer) that are 
Greek from the point of view of the classical language (but not necessarily Indo-Euro¬ 
pean, that is, they are new formations adopted after the break up of Proto-Indo-Euro¬ 
pean): barely one-third of the total. The remaining two-thirds are etymologically obscure 
(Hainsworth 1972, 40). Such obscurity gives clear indication of a pre-Greek, non-Indo- 
European substratum. The lack of foreign place-names in the oldest Indo-Aryan texts, 
in contrast, is remarkable when compared with the durability of place designations else¬ 
where. The same applies to rivers. Witzel again notes that “such names tend to be very 
archaic in many parts of the world and they often reflect the languages spoken before 
the influx of later populations” (368-369). Yet here again, “by and large, only San- 
skritic river names seem to survive” in the Northwest (370). In the Kuruksetra area, “all 
names are unique and new formations, mostly of IA coinage” (377). 

None of the river terms are Dravidian. The Ganges, which is the easternmost river 
mentioned in the Rgveda, has an unusual etymology containing a reduplicated form of 
gam ‘to go’, which Witzel believes is an old, non-Indo-Aryan loan, despite its Sanskritic 
look. Later texts, however, mention rivers farther east and south from the Rgvedic home¬ 
land that show signs of Munda and Tibeto-Burmese influence in the northeast, and 
Dravidian influence toward central India. For my purposes, paralleling the logic out¬ 
lined previously concerning the local fauna and flora, if the Indo-European had come 
from the Northwest of India, one would also expect the terms for hydronomy and to¬ 
pography of this area to preserve acceptable Indo-European etymologies. In fact, the 
hydronomic and topographic evidence is much more decisive than that of the flora and 
fauna: river names and place-names cannot be loanwords or be the result of adstratum, 
unlike the rest of the material overviewed in this chapter. If it can be convincingly dem¬ 
onstrated that the majority of Indo-Aryan hydronomic and topographic terms could not 
have evolved from Proto-Indo-European, then the Indigenous case would lose cogency. 
Of course, this procedure would be off to a rather tricky start by the very fact that we 
can only guess at what any hypothetical Indo-European terms for places or rivers might 
look like in the first place, but there is agreement about what is acceptable in terms of 
Indo-European roots. 

However, in “the ‘homeland’ of the Rgvedic Indians, the Northwest “we find “most 
Rgvedic river names . . . are Indo-Aryan, with the possible exception of the Kubha, 
Satrudri, and perhaps the Sindhu” (373). These latter, according to Witzel (1999),“prove 
a local non-IA substrate. In view of the fact that Witzel has provided a list of thirty- 
seven different Vedic river names, these two or three possible exceptions do not make 

1 00 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

as strong a case as one might have hoped. All the rest can indeed be derived from Indo- 
European roots. Morever, other scholars have even assigned Indo-Aryan etymologies to 
two of these three possible exceptions. 35 

Witzel’s reading (1999) of the evidence of hydronomy is as follows: 

During the Vedic period, there has been an almost complete Indo-Aryanization of the 
North Indian hydronomy. . . . Indo-Aryan influence, whether due to actual settlement, 
cultural expansion, or. . . . the substitution of indigenous names by Sanskrit ones, was 
from early on powerful enough to replace the local names, in spite of the well-known 
conservatism of river names. The development is especially surprising in the area of the 
Indus civilization. One would expect, just as in the Near East or in Europe, a survival of 
older river names and adoption of them by the 1A newcomers upon entering the territo¬ 
ries of the people(s) of the Indus civilization and its successor cultures. (388-389). 

Such conservatism is, indeed, extremely surprising, especially since the Indo-Aryans did 
not enter in sufficient numbers to be perceivable in the skeletal record of the subconti¬ 
nent, as we shall see in the next chapters. One also wonders how such small numbers 
of immigrants could have eradicated the names of rivers and places in the Northwest of 
die subcontinent in die few hundred years that separated their arrival from the time the 
texts were compiled—Witzel allows about seven hundred years from 1900 to 1200 b.c.e. 
(74)—and yet not succeed in doing the same when they Aryanized the eastern and south- 
central areas in the two or three millennia that followed (as I have noted, places in these 
areas show signs of pre-Aryan indigenous Dravidan and Munda etymologies to this day). 
Witzel agreees with Kuiper and others that the preexisting groups “must have had a 
fairly low social position as they were not even able to maintain their local place and 
river names, almost all of which were supplanted by new Sanskrit ones” (77). This 
position needs to accommodate the fact that preceding the arrival of Indo-Aryans in the 
Rgvedic homeland up to 1900 b.c.e. was the highly sophisticated urban culture of the 
Indus Valley (which, as will be discussed in the next chapters, did not just evaporate 
after the “decline” of the Indus Valley Civilization). 

Place-names are not much more decisive in this matter either, although much more 
work needs to be done in the area of present-day place-names in the subcontinent, which 
have not received the attention they deserve. Growse (1883) was the first and one of the 
only scholars to devote attention to this area, and his work is still a useful place to start. 
From his perspective, “Neither from the intrinsic evidence of indigenous literature, nor 
from the facts of recorded history, is it permissible to infer the simultaneous existence 
in the country of an alien-speaking race at any period” (320). He has scant regard for 
the etymologizing endeavors of those who attempted to identify a pre-Sanskritic-speak- 
ing people on the basis of the place-names of North India: “The existence of such a race 
is simply assumed by those who find it convenient to represent as non-aryan any forma¬ 
tion which their acquaintance with unwritten Aryan speech in its growth and decay is 
too superficial to enable them at once to identify” (320). He further complained that “a 
derivation from Sanskrit by the application of well-established but less popularly known 
phonetic and grammatical laws, is stigmatized as pedantic” (320). 

Growse found that place-names in the North consisted of those compounded with 
an affix denoting place; those compounded with an affix denoting possession; and those 
without an affix, being an epithet of the founder or of some descriptive feature of the 
place. He found the most numerous were those in die first category compounded with 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 101 

the affix pur ‘city, urban center’ (discussed more fully in the next chapter)- which trans¬ 
formed into a number of forms such as - oli,-uri,-uru. He quotes a verse from Vararuchi’s 
Prakrit grammar to show how inital p-, among other initials, can be elided. 36 He contin¬ 
ued to use Prakrit rules to determine a number of other affixes and concluded his study 
with a statement with which many would still agree: “So many names that at a hasty 
glance appear utterly unmeaning can be traced back to original Sanskrit forms as to 
raise a presumption that the remainder, though more effectively disguised, will ultimately 
be found capable of similar treatment: a strong argument being thus afforded against 
those scholars who hold that the modern vernacular is impregnated with a very large 
non-Aryan element” (Growse 1883, 353). 

In contrast, the only other recent study of place-names in the North of which I am 
aware, 37 which claims to be comprehensive, is dedicated to demonstrating that “before 
the Aryan invasion India was inhabited by the ancestors of the Dravidians, who mi¬ 
grated from the mediterranean region” (Das and Das 1987, 2). Even with such a start¬ 
ing premise, the book scarcely produces half a dozen possible Dravidian names from 
the Northwest of the subcontinent: the vast majority are from the east—Bengal and Uttar 
Pradesh—which few would dispute were originally settled by non-Aryans. 38 Southworth 
(1995) has argued for the existence of Dravidian place-names in Maharashtra, Gujarat, 
and Sindh. My concern is with the Northwest of the subcontinent. In this regard, 
Southworth has made some tentative identifications of a few place-names in Sindh ending 
in -uiari, wari, and the Punjab - wall. 39 As I have noted earlier, Growse (who was exam¬ 
ining names in the Uttar-Pradesh area) considered similar forms to be Prakritizations of 
pur and therefore Indo-Aryan. Mehendale considers the 2,045 wadi settlements in the 
Retnagiri area that he surveyed to have come from the Sanskrit form vdtika (a possible 
Prakritization of Sanskrit vrt). In short, there is much to be done on the subject of place- 
names in the Northwest. 

Apart from these observations, Witzel (forthcoming, 12) notes three place-names in 
Kashmir ending in -musa and a river called Ledari that he considers non-Indo-Aryan. In 
any event, he concludes: “In light of the present discussion about the arrival of the 
Aryans in India and in some circles of Anglophone archaeology, that is the growing 
denial of any immigration or even trickling in of people speaking Indo-Iranian or Indo- 
Aryan dialects, it is important to note that not only the Vedic language, but the whole 
complex material and spiritual culture has somehow been taken over and absorbed in 
the northwest of the subcontinent” (72). 

Of substantial importance is Witzel’s discovery (forthcoming b) that there was no 
Dravidian influence in the early Rgveda. He divides the Rgveda corpus into three dis¬ 
tinct chronological layers on linguistic grounds and finds that Dravidian loans surface 
only in layer II and III, and not in the earliest level at all: “Consequently, all linguistic 
and cultural deliberations based on the early presence of the Drav. in the area of speakers of 
IA, are void” (17; italics in original). Instead, “we find more than one hundred words 
from an unknown prefixing language” that is neither Dravidian, Burushaski, nor Tibeto- 
Burmese (6). On the basis of certain linguistic evidences, such as Munda-type prefixes 
(ka-, k i-, fct-, ku-, fee-, and “double prefixes”), he prefers to consider the pre-Aryan lan¬ 
guage an early form of Munda. 40 He finds the same prefixes in later texts whose geo¬ 
graphic boundaries are farther east. These deductions, combined with the known posi¬ 
tion of Munda in the east, cause Witzel to postulate a Munda substramm in the oldest 

102 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Rgvedic period. He considers that an essential corollary of his findings is “that the lan¬ 
guage of the Indus people, at least those in the Punjab, must have been (Para-) Munda or 
a western form of Austro-Asiatic (12). He proposed that this language, in turn, was an 
overlay over an unknown, lost language (Masica’s “language x”). 

As a side note, Witzel draws attention to another interesting point. Since the Indus 
Valley was a trading civilization, why did non-Indo-Aryan terms for trade not surface in 
the Rgveda? Why are all the loans identified primarily terms for fauna, flora, and agri¬ 
culture (mostly from “language x”)? Since most migrationists would accept that the Indo- 
Aryans interacted with the tail end of the Indus Valley Civilization, one would have 
grounds to expect that incoming Indo-Aryans would have borrowed trading terms from 
this civilization, which is not the case. 

Dravidian, in Witzel’s scenario (forthcoming b, 30), was a later intruder that, inter¬ 
estingly, he is prepared to consider as having arrived at about the same time as the 
Indo-Aryan languages, (30), explaining the subsequent influences of Dravidian on later 
Vedic [strata] (Dravidian, in the process, also absorbed retroflexes and lexical items for 
flora, and so on, from the unknown, preexisting language). 41 This causes me to again 
raise the previous consideration—perhaps an inescapable one from the perspective of 
Indigenous Aryanism—and one that has yet to receive scholarly attention. What is the 
possibility of all the various innovations noted here being the result of alien languages, 
whether Dravidian, Munda, or anything else, intruding on an Indigenous Indo-Aryan 
language as opposed to vice versa? Or of adstratum or superstratum relationships as 
opposed to substratum? Witzel has provided data to argue that this certainly must have 
been the case with Dravidian, since Dravidian influence is not visible in the earliest 
layers of the Rg but only in subsequent layers: “Such words could have been taken over 
any time between the RV . . . and the earliest attestation of Tamil at the beginning of 
our era” (31). He notes that most of the eight hundred words assigned a Dravidian 
etymology by the Dravidian Etymological Dictionnary are attested only in the later Ep¬ 
ics or classical Sanskrit texts: “The Indo-Aryans did not at once get into contact with 
speakers of Drav. but only much later, when the tribes speaking IA were already living 
in the Panjab and on the SarasvatT and Yamuna” (19). If Dravidian has influenced Indo- 
Aryan through adstratum or superstratum interactions, and not through a substratum 
relationship, then why could Munda (or other languages) not likewise have done so? 

Indo-Aryan, or Dravidian and Munda Migrations? 

I wish to further explore this possibility, first raised by Bloch, namely, that it was Dravidian 
that intruded into an Indo-Aryan speaking area and not vice versa. It seems to me that 
an Indigenous Aryan position would be forced to consider this possibility in one way 
or another. Linguistically, at least, there does not seem to be any reason that this could 
not have been the case. Brahui, in this scenario, could have been a language pocket of 
Dravidian that remained stranded in the North after the rest of the Dravidian speakers 
had continued down south. This would fit with the claim that Brahui is better con¬ 
nected to the southern language group of Dravidian rather than the northern one. While 
I will concentrate on Dravidian, here, since this has been the focus of most research in 
this area, the logic being outlined is just as applicable to Munda (which, until the work 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 103 

of Kuiper and Witzel, has received less scholarly attention in terms of its influence on 
Vedic than Dravidian), and even “language x”. 

There is also another very significant reason that Indigenous Aryanists would have 
to argue for a post-Indo-Aryan arrival of Dravidian (Witzel, personal communication). 
If the innovative features Indo-Aryan shared with Dravidian and/or Munda and/or other 
unknown languages, such as the retroflexes, were the result of adstratum influences 
between these languages in the proto-historic period, as has been presented as a possi¬ 
bility earlier, one would expect that some of these linguistic features would have rippled 
out into other adjacent Indo-European areas, or at least into neighboring Iranian. After 
all, from the perspective of a South Asian homeland, the Iranians could not have left 
the subcontinent much before the composition of the Rgveda due to the similarity of 
the languages. Therefore, from the perspective of a language continuum homeland with 
the Northwest of the subcontinent as its nucleus, Iranian would have been the closest 
to this nucleus. Why, then, did Iranian not share these innovations? Wiry do most of 
these South Asian areal features seem to stop at the Khyber Pass, so to speak? 

In this regard, Hock (1993) notes that some of the innovations are actually shared 
by eastern Iranian, specifically retroflection: “The core area of the change must have 
been in South Asia proper, from which the change spread only incompletely to the 
Nuristani and East Iranian languages on the northwestern periphery, before coming to 
a complete halt in geographically even more remote Iranian territory” (96). He has also 
argued that a second of the three main features discussed in this chapter, namely, the 
postposed quotative marker iti, could have been paralleled by Avestan uitl (although 
Kuiper [1991] feels this lacks any foundation). There have also been claims of loans 
from Dravidian into Avestan as well as A’edic, which have been construed as coming 
from the Indo-lranian period (see Southworth 1990 for examples). Nonetheless, from 
the Indigenous Aryan perspective, it would be easier to argue that Dravidian and/or 
Munda, and/or “language x” speakers, intruded into an Indo-Aryan-speaking area after 
Iranian had already left, and that consequently the innovations were the result of a 
superstratum of these language speakers settling in Indo-Aryan-speaking areas in the 

Alternatively, these languages could have skirted the Indo-Aryan languages in the 
Northwest and influenced them as adstratum. The first issue to be dealt with in this 
case, of course, is chronological. Either it would have to be argued that the Dravidian/ 
Munda/“language x” speakers entered die subcontinent after about 1900 b.c.e. and 
interacted with the Indo-Aryans as adstratum or superstratum during the period prior 
to the commonly accepted composition of the hymns. If this is too late for proto-Dravidian, 
it would have to be argued that the Indus Valley was Indo-Aryan and that the Vedic 
texts are far older than philologers have so far dated them. Both these latter issues will 
be discussed at length in the following chapters. 

In terms of the possibility of a later Dravidian intrusion into the subcontinent, I will 
briefly review some of the theories pertaining to the chronology and origins of Dravidian. 
There is no consensus regarding the origin of Dravidian. McAlpin’s attempt (1974) to 
connect Dravidian with Elamite is the most often quoted endeavor, although often without 
much critical analysis of the claims involved (perhaps because so few linguists are com¬ 
petent enough in the two languages involved to evaluate his work). The Dravidian lin¬ 
guist Krishnamurti (1985) appears unconvinced by this idea and wonders if “McAlpin 

104 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

was carried away by the flight of his imagination.” As far as he is concerned,“many of 
the rules formulated by McAlpin lack intrinsic phonetic/phonological motivation and 
appear ad hoc, invented to fit the proposed correspondences,” and “McAlpin’s foray 
into comparative morphology is even more disastrous” (225-226). Other reactions to 
McAlpin’s proposal, by Emeneau, Jacobsen, Kuiper, Rainer, Stopa, Vallat, and Wescott, 
have also been very reserved (although Paper and Zvebevil were more enthusiastic). (These 
responses were published in Current Antropology volume 16 [1975].) 

Vacek (1987) gives an overview of scholarship attempting to connect Dravidian with 
the Altaic languages. While he is partial to this position, he is forced to acknowledge 
that “conclusions concerning the type of their relations are premature because the avail¬ 
able data can often be interpreted in various ways” (1 2). Sjoberg (1971) also undertakes 
such an overview but is more partial to the attempts at finding connections with the 
Uralic languages, although admiring that this is at odds with genetic data pointing to 
links with southwestern Asia (16). Uralic was also favored by Tyler (1968). Another 
attempt at establishing genetic relationships has been with Japanese. 42 A further group 
of scholars see the typological or other features illustrated by all these efforts as evidence 
of a superfamily, Nostratic. Nostratic is a term coined by the Russian linguist Illich- 
Svitych to refer to a superlanguage family, or a protofamily of protofamilies. Depending 
on the linguist, this might include Afro-Asiatic, Elamite, Kartvelian, Uralic, Altaic, and 
Dravidian in addition to Indo-European, although many linguists believe this language 
is completely beyond the ability of current techniques in linguistics to demonstrate. 

In any event, clearly, the origins of Dravidian are yet to be established; as Sjoberg 
(1971) concludes, “we can only speculate as to the time and place of the initial forma¬ 
tion of a distinctive Dravidian people and culture” (17). Less work has been focused on 
the origins of Munda on the subcontinent, but here, too, any dating attempt can only 
be highly speculative. D’iakonov (1997) tentatively explores the possibility of its con¬ 
nection with Sumerian. Acknowledging that there are no “amazing similarities,” he 
nonetheless hopes that “some suggestive material may perhaps emerge” (58). As for 
“language x,” since it is primarily a hypothetical language, there are no grounds whatso¬ 
ever for determining its chronology or point of origin (unless Kuiper’s linguistic pat¬ 
terns can be correlated with other language families). 

Chronologically, scholars have little of substance upon which to base their dates for 
the incursion of Dravidian into the subcontinent (all do seem to agree that Dravidian 
was not an indigenous language). Zvelebil (1972) considers them “a highlander folk, 43 
sitting, sometime round 4000 B.C., in the rugged mountainous areas of Northeastern 
Iran. . . whence, round 3500 B.C., they began a Southeastern movement into the In¬ 
dian subcontinent which went on for about two and a half millennia” (58). Needless to 
say, since the Elamite connection has not been widely accepted, there are no obvious 
traces of Dravidian outside the subcontinent that can determine either its point of ori¬ 
gin, its chronology, or the overland route of its speakers, although attempts have been 
made to find traces of them in central Asia (e.g., Lahovary 1963). Pejros and Shnirelman 
(1989) volunteer a date of 3000 b.c.e. for proto-Dravidian without stating their grounds 
and hold that the language must have entered the subcontinent from the Northwest 
due to its Nostratic connection. 

In reality, any attempt to establish a date for proto-Dravidian is ultimately, as Zvebevil 
(1972) acknowledges, “in the nature of guesswork,” since glottochronology, as I will 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 


discuss in chapter 13, has been almost unanimously discredited. As far as I can deter- 
mine, there is very little that is decisive that can be brought forward to deny the possi¬ 
bility that Dravidian or Munda speakers intruded upon an Indo-Aryan speaking area 
and not vice versa. This possibility would be reinforced if the claims of a greater antiq¬ 
uity for the Indo-Aryan language could be established. We might also bear in mind 
Bloch’s suggestion that such intrusions could have been the result of individuals as 
opposed to major population movements, just as individual Sanskrit speakers coming 
from North India massively affected the southern languages (which became heavily 
Sanskritized) without migrating down in vast numbers. 


There might be scope, in all this, for considering alternative models to that of invading 
Aryans borrowing a specialized lexicon from Dravidian, Munda, or linguistically un¬ 
known indigenous people. Indigenist suspicions are initially aroused due to the consid¬ 
erable differences in the opinions of the foremost authorities in this area. Some schol¬ 
ars are quite prepared to acknowledge the inconclusiveness of the linguistic evidence. 
Other linguists have concluded, both because of the syntactical reasons discussed ear¬ 
lier and because Dravidian and Munda can account for only a small minority of the 
unaccountable words, that unknown, extinct languages must have existed in the 
protoperiod. This is by no means an unreasonable proposal. There are a number of 
languages on the subcontinent apart from Dravidian and Munda. Tibeto-Burmese is 
the most widespread, but there are also the language isolates such as Kusunda, Nahali, 
and Burushaski that have been examined by Witzel (1999) as possible substratum can¬ 
didates. Burushaski is of particular relevance, since it is situated in the Northwest. 
However, neither this nor any other known language has been recognized by special¬ 
ists as a possible candidate for the innovations in the Rgveda. 44 Hence the need for 
“language x.” 

The problem is that the existence of such possible extinct languages is very hard to 
verily; Kuiper’s attempt at pinpointing consistent alien structural patterns in Indo-Aryan 
might be the nearest one can hope for in terms of “proof.” Emeneau (1980), a propo¬ 
nent of a Dravidian substratum, seems to recognize that resorting to such opaque expla¬ 
nations as extinct languages is hardly likely to satisfy empirically minded historians: “It 
hardly seems useful to take into account the possibility of another language, or language 
family, totally lost to the record, as the source [of the foreign words]” (169). Resorting 
to such explanations is seen as rather desperate pleading by the frustrated Talageri (1993), 
who “cannot proceed with these scholars into the twilight zone of purely hypothetical 
non-existent languages” (200; italics in original). 45 Mallory (1975) opines that “the reli¬ 
ance on simple a posteriori appeals to unknown (and perhaps non-existent) substrates 
to explain linguistic change should be dismissed from any solution to the IE homeland 
problem” (160). As has been noted, such a hypothesis can be neither verified nor falsi¬ 
fied and thus is incapable of resolving this debate. Moreover, even if it could be veri¬ 
fied—and, in deference to Kuiper’s work, unknown languages can be “proved” if consis¬ 
tent phonemic or morphological patterns can be identified in textual sources—how can 
one discount the possibility that such linguistic influences could still be explainable along 

106 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

the same lines suggested previously: as resulting from adstratum, as opposed to substra¬ 
tum, relationships? 

In summary, all these linguists are operating on the assumption, based primarily on 
other criteria, that the Aryans “must have” invaded India, where there could not have 
been a “linguistic vacuum.” All alien linguistic features identified in Sanskrit texts have 
accordingly been explained as belonging to pre-Indo-Aryan substrata. Since Dravidian 
and Munda inadequately explain these changes visible in Sanskrit, many are forced to 
consider theories of extinct languages. How the data could be convincingly reinterpreted 
if this assumption were to be reconsidered remains to be seen, since a comprehensive 
and objective case has yet to be made by the “Indigenous Aryanists” despite their possess¬ 
ing the rudiments of a variety of alternative explanations already advanced by Western 
linguists. As I have attempted to outline, loanwords can enter a language in many ways 
without the need for postulating a substratum (or even an adstratum). Many of the for¬ 
eign terms for flora and fauna could simply indicate that these items have continually 
been imported into the subcontinent over the centuries, as continues to be the case 
today. The exception to this is place-names and river names, but the absence of foreign 
terms for the topography and hydronomy of the Northwest deprives us of significant 
evidence that has been used to establish substrata elsewhere. Most important, the pos¬ 
sibility of spontaneous development for many of the syntactical features common to 
Sanskrit and Dravidian and Munda, coupled with the possibility of an adstratum rela¬ 
tionship for features that are undoubtedly borrowings between the languages, are the 
most obvious alternative possibilities that need to be fully explored. 

Thomason and Kaufman (1988) have outlined a typology of change typically caused by 
the cultural pressure of a language on another—the more overpowering the influence, the 
more the language will transform. Casual pressure results in lexical borrowings only; less 
casual influence produces lexicon and minor structural borrowing; more intense contact 
increases the amount of structural borrowings; and strong and very strong cultural pres¬ 
sure result in moderate and extensive structural transformation. I am not aware of any 
technique available to present linguistic knowledge that, in a protohistoric setting, can 
determine whether such influences between languages—whether they be lexical or syntac¬ 
tical—are the result of adstratum, substratum, or even superstratum relationships. 

Salmons (1992) notes the same concerns in his search for substratum influence in 
Northwest Indo-European vocabulary: “Adstratal borrowing or even internal innova¬ 
tions, not just substratal borrowings, might show these previously prohibited forms. 
Again, simple alternative explanations to the substrate hypothesis seem to present them¬ 
selves” (274). He goes on to state that “as a result of the proclivity to speculate, sub¬ 
strate explanations carry a bad reputation among historical linguists. ... all other av¬ 
enues must be exhausted before we reach for a substrate explanation” (266). Caution 
must be exercised that substratum explanations are not resorted to as a kind of conve¬ 
nient linguistic dumping ground where anything that does not fit into the dominant 
recorded culture is heaped by default. 

In conclusion, the theory of Aryan migrations into the Indian subcontinent would 
better be established without doubt on other grounds, for research into pre-Aryan linguis¬ 
tic substrata to become fully conclusive. That Indo-Aryan intruded onto a non-Indo- 
Aryan substratum still has much to recommend itself. Perhaps it is the least compli¬ 
cated way of accounting for the available evidence, but it is not without limitations. To 

Linguistic Substrata in Sanskrit Texts 107 

reiterate, the main alternative possibilities that Migrationists need to eliminate are: (1) 
that Indo-Aryan could have spontaneously originated some of the non-Indo-European 
innovations visible in it and then shared these with Dravidian and/or Munda (or vice 
versa); (2) that the non-Indo-European words in Sanskrit texts from Dravidian, Munda 
and/or “language x” are simply loans resulting from trade or other nonsubstrarum in¬ 
teractions between language groups; and (3) that any alien linguistic features in Sanskrit 
texts that cannot be accounted for by possibilities 1 or 2, whether phonemic or mor¬ 
phological, could be the result of adstratum (or superstratum) rather than substratum 
contacts. The other possibility that needs to be eliminated is that the Indo-Aryan names 
of places and rivers could not have evolved from Proto-Indo-European by inherent and 
natural internal linguistic developments. As for Indigenists, they must accept that any 
discussion of Indo-Aryan origins that neglects the substratum data, simply cannot be 
taken seriously. 

All this resonates with Polome’s conclusion (1990b) to his researches on Germanic 
substratum: “ In many cases the evidence remains inconclusive, and only when extralinguistic 
evidence can be coordinated with the lexical data can we posit a ‘substrate’ origin of the 
terms” (285). In short, while certainly suggestive, it is difficult to see how the “evidence” 
of a linguistic substratum in Indo-Aryan, in and of itself, can be used as a final arbitrator 
in the debate over Indo-Aryan origins. 


Linguistic Paleontology 

As mentioned previously, linguistic paleontology was inaugurated by Adolphe Pictet in 
1859 in three volumes that covered every imaginable set of Indo-European cognates. 1 
This method was fundamental in relocating the Indo-European homeland away from 
the East, where the early scholars had preferred to situate it. Just as paleontology in¬ 
volves attempting to understand the plant and animal life of previous geological ages 
from fossils found in the archaeological record, linguistic paleontology involves hypoth¬ 
esizing about the social, religious, political, economic, ecological, cultural, and geographic 
environment of protohistoric cultures from linguistic fossils, or cognate terms, preserved 
in the various members of a language family. As Otto Schrader (1890) put it, “As the 
archaeologist. . . descends into the depths of the earth ... to trace the past in bone and 
stone remains, so the student of language might . . . employ the flotsam and jetsam of 
language ... to reconstruct the picture of the primal world” (iii). Once a picture embel¬ 
lished with details such as flora, fauna, landscape, and economy has been formed by 
this method, the idea is to attempt to situate it in an appropriate geographic setting in 
the real world and then connect it with a corresponding archaeological culture, Nietzsche 
was to compare the philologist to an artist touching up an old canvas. In this case, 
however, the canvas was well over five thousand years old. Could philology bring this 
completely faded picture back to life, or would it paint right over it and create a com¬ 
pletely different landscape? 

This section will outline some of the features of this method that have been relevant 
to the history of the quest for the Indo-Aryans, or that have attracted responses from 
the Indigenous school. Since I am not an Indo-Europeanist myself and my audience is 
primarily scholars of South Asia who are interested in the protohistory of the Indian 
subcontinent, I will not attempt to represent most of the discussion and debate amongst 


Linguistic Paleontology 109 

linguists concerning technical details such as the protoforms of words diat are relevant 
to this section, but will address the more general conclusions drawn from them. I should 
also note that most present-day Indo-Europeanists are fully aware of the limitations of 
this method, and of its checkered history. However, much that will be considered passe 
to specialists in the field still surfaces in books on Indian proto-history and therefore 
remains relevant to the purposes of this work. 

Flora and Fauna 

One set of cognates, which became extremely influential in supporting a German home¬ 
land, involved the term for the common beech tree. As Friedrich (1970) notes, “The 
botanical beech line, partly because it has been so often misused, has guaranteed this 
tree a sure place in all discussions of the Proto-Indo-European homeland” (106). Pictet 
triggered the popularity of this tree among homeland-seekers by presenting an array of 
cognates for this term from all the Indo-European languages accessible in his time. Since 
this tree had cognates in both the Indo-Iranian and the European side of the family, it 
was assumed to have existed in the proto-language before the various linguistic branches 
separated. Words with cognates in only the western (or only the eastern) branches retain 
the possibility that their referents might have been encountered after the common Proto- 
Indo-European period in a secondary, western (or eastern) location, and therefore not 
indicative of the original homeland. As mentioned previously, scholars such as Geiger 
used this information to draw up maps of the geographic boundaries within which the 
beech tree grows—specifically, German-centered Europe (thus excluding the Asian 
hypothesis that was still almost universally accepted in Pictet’s time)—and the Aryan 
homeland was set within this area. The beech evidence was particularly used by Thieme 
(1964, 597) who argued for a homeland between the Black Sea and the Baltic with an 
eastern border fixed by the boundaries of the beech habitat. 

There are various problems with this approach. It has been noted that the beech is 
linguistically unattested in Anatolian, but this language was spoken in the very area where 
scholars believe the beech was native. In odter languages spoken in the heartland of beech 
territory, the word was transferred to refer to the ‘oak’ so dtat “the concatenation of as¬ 
sumptions required to press the ‘beech line’ into argument would appear to be exceed¬ 
ingly dubious” (Mallory and Adams 1997, 60). Friedrich (1970) points out further limi¬ 
tations of the birch evidence based on its shifting habitat and concludes that “none of 
Thieme’s well-known criteria support his homeland hypothesis” (30). The area where the 
beech, or any tree, grows now may not be the same as where they might have grown many 
millennia ago. Paleobotony might help locate prehistoric trees to some extent, but Friedrich 
explicitly encourages the philologist to “retain a due skepticism of ‘hard science’” (14) 2 

But such methods have other limitations when it comes to locating homelands. 
Friedrich (1970), in his taxonomy of Indo-European trees, proposes that linguistic 
paleontology reveals eighteen categories of trees that were known to the ancient Indo- 
Europeans. 3 His findings reveal that all three divisions of the Slavic languages have at 
least one of the reflexes for each of these eighteen terms, indicating that the Slavs 
were familiar with all eighteen Indo-European trees; the correspondence, in this case, is 
100 percent. This suggests, to him, that the speakers of the common Slavic period lived 

110 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

in an ecological, that is, arboreal, zone similar or identical to that of the Proto-Indo- 
European’s (167). 4 In sharp contradistinction, the paucity of these eighteen stocks attested 
in Indie, Anatolian, and Tocharian suggests to Friedrich “substratum influence” or 
“movement into a radically different environment” (169). This evidence is taken as sig¬ 
nificant evidence that the Indo-Europeans must have come into India from elsewhere 
(e.g., Possehl 1996, 65). Friedrich himself seems aware of the possible objections that 
drawing too far-reaching conclusions from his results might provoke and is hasty to add 
that he “would be the first to insist that the arboreal evidence cannot be used in isola¬ 
tion to construe a conclusive argument for a Proto-Indo-European homeland in the 
Ukraine or the Cossack steppe” (168). 

The immediate objection from the perspective of the Indigenous Aryan school was 
first articulated by Dhar, head of the Sanskrit department at Delhi University in 1930, 
when confronted with similar arguments. Dhar’s (1930) is the first serious attempt that 
I can trace to challenge the prevailing ideas regarding the Aryan invasions on linguistic, 
as opposed to philological, grounds: 5 

Central Asia might be the secondary home of the Aryas (Indo-European’s] . . . but their 
primary home might be situated outside central Asia, in the Himalayas. ... Of late, the 
beech argument is much advertised by the promoters of the Indo-European theory of the 
home of the Aryas. But the term for the “beech” might have been coined by the Aryan 
settlers in Europe only where the tree grew. (26) 

Tire logic here is that if the Indo-European tribes had, hypothetically, journeyed forth 
from an Indian homeland, they would obviously have encountered strange trees, animals, 
and fauna that did not exist on the subcontinent and for which they would have coined 
new terms or borrowed names from the indigenous people resident in those areas. Sub¬ 
sequent Indo-European tribes would have adopted the same terms from their predecessor 
Indo-Europeans resident in the places where the unfamiliar items were encountered. 6 Such 
new lexical terms would obviously not surface in the Indo-Aryan languages that remained 
behind in the subcontinent, since the objects they denoted did not exist in India. Nor 
would they surface in other Indo-European languages such as Tocharian and Anatolian, 
which were geographically removed from the well-trodden northwestern path taken by 
most of the Indo-European tribes that eventually resurfaced in the west. The result would 
be a large number of common terms in the western Indo-European languages (since they 
are numerically greater) and a smaller number in lndo-Iranian. 7 

Friedrich’s results, then, indicating a paucity of his reconstructed tree stocks in Indie, 
Anatolian, and Tocharian, would not be incongruous to the Indigenous Aryan posi¬ 
tion. On the contrary, anyone postulating a South Asian homeland would anticipate 
such findings. Dhar’s basic premise can be used to challenge conclusions drawn from 
any other cognate terms of material culture extant in the western Indo-European branches 
but absent in the lndo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan ones. As Polome (1990b, 274) notes, there 
are two equally logical ways of accounting for the lacuna of some linguistic feature in 
one particular language that is shared by its cognates in other languages: either it was 
never there to start with or it has been lost somewhere along the way. Indeed, other 
linguists use exactly the same arguments as Dhar has used to account for items recon¬ 
structed in Proto-Indo-European that happen to be absent in their proposed homeland: 
“Part of these terms cannot be reconstructed for the period of proto-Indo-European unity, 

Linguistic Paleontology 111 

but only for later dialect groupings. . . . hence the picture of the ancient Indo-Europeans’ 
plant and animal world is to be thought of as . . . one which changed as speakers of the 
dialects moved to their later territories” (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, 1995, 573); “What is 
especially interesting about these words is that most of them denote natural objects . . . 
typical of Europe and less typical of SW Asia. My impression is that these words were 
borrowed when the W [west] Indo-European ethnic community migrated from some 
region of SW Asia ... to Europe . . . and got acquainted with objects of nature which 
had been unfamiliar or less familiar earlier” (Dolgopolsky 1989, 18). 8 

Along very similar lines, another group of cognate terms was prominent in attempts 
to locate the homeland in Europe or southern Russia. Thieme in particular held that 
the term for ‘salmon’ is “especially characteristic” of the Indo-Europeans. According to 
him, this fish is found only in the rivers that go into the Baltic and German Seas (1964, 
597). 9 The salmon evidence is still in circulation, especially among those promoting a 
northern German homeland (e.g., Diebold 1991, 1 3). 10 However, the salmon case is 
slightly more complicated for the Indigenous Aryan school, since, in this case, Sanskrit 
might have a cognate term ( laksa , ‘lac’) with the same etymology that has been assigned 
to the Proto-Indo-European form for the salmon (*loks). If the Sanskrit form is, indeed, 
a cognate, then how did the word come to mean ‘lac’ in Sanskrit, and ‘salmon’, or 
‘fish’, in other languages? 

Since Sanskrit also has a term laksa, which means a very large number, Elst (1996), 
who argues for a South Asian homeland, has proposed that Indo-European tribes, upon 
leaving the subcontinent, came across unfamiliar fish in large shoals to which they gave 
the term 'numerous; hundreds of thousands’. 11 The interchange of number terms with 
the nomenclatures of species that cluster together in multitudes is not uncommon. Elst 
compares the Idksa/laksa case with the Chinese use of an insect character, wan, to de¬ 
note ten thousand. This general term for fish, which was preserved in Tocharian, then 
eventually entered into some Indo-European languages to refer to more specific types of 
fish. The word was applied to ‘salmon’ (Old High German lahs, Russian losos, etc.) 
when the speakers of these languages encountered this specific reddish species of fish 
(perhaps prompted by the almost identical Indo-European word for red) and, in other 
languages, such as in Iranian Ossetic, to trout ( lasag ). 12 In any event, some linguists 
claim that the Indie forms (particularly laksa) are not actual cognates, in which case it 
could be argued that the word for ‘salmon’ could have been coined by tribes after they 
had left the subcontinent along the lines outlined earlier. Using similar arguments, 
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1983b) state that “in the specific meaning of‘salmon’ . . . the 
word is common to the ‘Ancient European’ dialects and Eastern Iranian. . . . Of course 
the word would have acquired this meaning in those areas where salmon was found, in 
regions near the Aral or Caspian Seas” (77). 13 

These are the types of arguments that have to be made to account for any terms 
either not preserved in Indo-Aryan but present in other Indo-European languages or 
preserved in Indo-Aryan but with a different meaning from cognates in other Indo- 
European languages. 14 What must be noted is that scholars, such as Thieme, have used 
exactly the same series of deductions, but in reverse. Indeed, as with so much of this 
debate, Elst has basically redirected Thieme’s exact arguments. In Thieme’s scenarios, 
(1953, 552), a protoword for ‘salmon’ in a salmon-breeding homeland gets transferred 
onto other fish by tribes moving out of the salmon area and becomes a number, or 

112 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

adjective meaning red, in India. Both ways of presenting the series of semantic trans¬ 
feral are, arguably, possibilities. 15 Clearly, in all homeland explanations, a certain amount 
of juggling has to be done to account for all the available data, but we find other lin¬ 
guists such as Gamkrelidze and Ivanov utilizing similar arguments to Dhar and Elst in 
defense of their Near Eastern homeland. 16 This brings us back to the focus of this in¬ 
quiry. Can India be convincingly denied the status of an urheimat contender by the 
method of linguistic paleontology? 

India has repeatedly been excluded as a potential homeland based either on the logic 
outlined here, that is, that it does not have cognate forms for items of material culture 
attested in other languages, or, by the inverse logic, that exotic items unique to India are 
unattested elsewhere. This latter process of elimination has been consistently used to 
exclude South Asia. Thus Thieme (1964) notes: “We can eliminate [as homeland can¬ 
didates] those [languages] for whose characteristic plants and animals no reconstructable 
designations are available, that is India: (no Proto-Indo-European words for elephant, 
tiger, monkey, fig, tree, etc.), [and] Iran (no proto-Indo-European words for camel, donkey, 
lion, etc.)” (596; see also Bender, 1922, 21). More recently, Witzel (1995a) has remarked 
along the same lines that “turning to Sanskrit, it is interesting . . . that ‘tropical’ [Indo- 
European] words are . . . absent in it, which indicates that it was an immigrant into 
South Asia. Words for lion, tiger, elephant are either loanwords from local languages, or 
are new formations, such as hastin ‘elephant; the one with a hand’” (101). This argu¬ 
ment basically holds that since the terms for exotica typical of India have no cognates 
elsewhere, these terms could not have been in Proto-Indo-European, and therefore Proto- 
Indo-European could not have been spoken in the areas, such as India, where such 
exotica are to be found. 

Similar arguments were actually countered over a century ago by Western scholars them¬ 
selves. Lassen ([1851] 1867), as mentioned in chapter 1, was the first to attempt to deny 
India the possibility of being the homeland on these very grounds that the other Indo- 
European languages lacked terms for the exotica present in India. His reasoning was im¬ 
mediately dismissed by his colleagues: “The want of animals specifically Asiatic . . . can be 
explained simply by die fact of these animals not existing in Europe, which occasioned 
their names to be forgotten” (Weber 1857, 10). Max Muller ([1857] 1985) also rejected 
this line of argument: “And suppose that the elephant and the camel had really been known 
... by the united Aryans, when living in Asia, would it not have been natural that, when 
transplanted to the northern regions, dieir children who had never seen a camel or ele¬ 
phant should have lost the name of them?” (101). Keith (1933) likewise complained: 

Nothing is more unsatisfactory than to attempt to define Indo-European society on the 
assumption that the Indo-Europeans knew only what can be ascribed to them on con¬ 
clusive evidence. Ex hypothesi, there were great dispersals of peoples from the original 
home, and those who wondered away were unquestionably constantly intermingling 
with other peoples . . . and it is not to be wondered at that in new surroundings new 
words were employed; still less can it be a matter of surprise that peoples which ceased 
to be in contact with natural features soon dropped the names which had become use¬ 
less. (189-190) 

Lassen’s reasoning occurs in the Cambridge History of India, wherein Giles (1922) 
had stated that “the primitive habitat from which the speakers of these languages de¬ 
rived their origin ... is not likely to be India, as some of the earlier investigators as- 

Linguistic Paleontology 113 

sumed, for neither the flora nor fauna, as determined by their language, is characteristic 
of this area” (68). Dhar (1930) again rose to the challenge: 

The absence of common names in the Indo-European languages for such Asiatic animals 
as the lion and the tiger and the camel, cannot prove the European origin of the Aryas 
[Indo-Europeans], for the names of such animals as are peculiar to the East might easily 
be forgotten by the people [after they had left India) in die West where those animals 
were not found. Or it is very probable that there may be several synonyms for the same 
object in the Aryan mother tongue—the one tribe of the Aryas in Asia or India having 
taken the fancy for one name while the other for another. . . . Professor Giles is an advo¬ 
cate of the European home of the Aryas. He ought to realize that his argument cuts both 
ways, for the names of European flora and fauna do not exist in the Asiatic Aryan lan¬ 
guages either. Really it should not be difficult to understand that the names for trees and 
animals disappear as the trees and animals themselves disappear. (30) 

Dhar’s reasoning is simple but logical, and it returns to the same basic point. If the 
Indo-European’s had migrated from India, it would, indeed, be possible that the words 
for uniquely Indian objects would disappear from use and would not surface in the 
western cognate languages. This exactly mirrors the logic outlined in the previous sec¬ 
tion in reverse: the newly coined words in the western languages to describe exotic items 
not extant in India would obviously not be evidenced in the Indo-Aryan languages re¬ 
maining in India. 

Here, again, we find present-day Western scholars reiterating exactly die same argu¬ 
ments: the importance of terms in the protolanguage designating plants, animals, and 
other geographically bound concepts 

should not be overestimated. If a given proto-language was spoken in an area outside that 
of its daughter languages, specific words designating features of the ancient habitat are 
not usually preserved in the attested languages. Therefore, if a language ancestral to a 
group of European languages originated in Africa, we would not be able to find in the 
extant lexical stock ancient words for “giraffe” and “elephant” which could suggest its 
African origin. (Dolgopolsky 1987, 8) 

Regarding the possibility of synonyms, Polome, (1990b) along the same lines as Dhar, 
also objects to speculations that “fail to take into account such basic facts as the possi¬ 
bility that several designations . . . [for words in Indo-European] may have coexisted, 
differentiated by the context in which they appeared and the people who used them” 
(270). Furthermore, as Dhar notes, the argument cuts both ways: why should the Indie 
languages be held accountable for containing the names of exotica not evidenced in the 
western languages, and the western languages not have to account for their unique terms 
with no Indie cognates? 

Moreover, proto-Indo-European might even have retained protoforms for exotica such 
as the monkey and elephant, at least according to Gramkrelidze and Ivanov (1995), 
which, if we are to accept the evidence of such reasoning ex silentio, further problematizes 
the European and Russian homeland theories and could even be used in support of the 
case of the Indian homeland if we are to follow the same logic that has been levied 
against it. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995) reconstruct Indo-European animal words for 
wolf, bear, leopard, lion, lynx, jackal, wild boar, deer, wild bull, hare, squirrel, monkey 
and elephant. 17 Contrary to Thieme’s objection mentioned earlier, we find that, accord- 

114 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

ing to Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, items unique to India actually might have cognates 
elsewhere. They claim that dre monkey (Skr. kapi < * qhe/oph) has widely distributed 
cognates (442). 18 Sanskrit ‘elephant’ also shares a cognate form with Latin ‘ivory’ (Skt. 
ibha, Latin ebur < *yebh- or *Hebh-). Hittite-Luwian, and Greek, point to another protoform 
( *lebh-onth- or * leHbho-), which suggests to Gamkrelidze and Ivanov that the two words 
are related to a single Proto-Indo-European form for this animal. 19 Likewise, although 
there are a variety of terms for lion, Dolgopolsky (1987, 10) considers the form *singh 
as one of the few Proto-Indo-European animal terms that appear to be fairly reliable on 
the basis of Indie (siriiha) and Armenian (inj ‘panther’). 

Clearly, there are problems with some of the arguments oudined here; Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov’s reconstructions are by no means universally accepted—the terms for el¬ 
ephant and monkey may have been loans into later languages. Moreover, few Indo- 
Europeanists still champion the beech or salmon evidence. But the point is that if beeches 
or salmon or any other item can be promoted as proof of an European or Russian home¬ 
land, there is little to prevent disenchanted Indian scholars from coopting Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov elephants and monkeys in support of a South Asian one in order to dem¬ 
onstrate the maleability of this method. However, even allowing all of the arguments by 
Dhar and others noted here, unless a few unambiguous inherited cognates among the 
Indo-European languages for items unique to South Asian can be found, it is unlikely 
that claims for a South Asian homeland will attract any serious attention from Indo- 
Europeanists. Some cognates of tribal names from the Rgveda, at least, would be ex¬ 
pected to surface in the West if Indo-European tribes had emigrated there from India 
(and if the Rgveda is as old as Indigenists would have it). Of course, as Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov’s reconstruction has shown, surprises are always possible (although not always 
accepted), particularly when the data are approached with different perspectives; but, 
with the exception of Elst and Dhar, linguistic paleontology remains another aspect of 
this issue almost completely ignored by the Indigenous School. 

Witzel, in the earlier remark about the elephant (hastin ‘possessing a hand’), articu¬ 
lates a further, often encountered observation regarding the names of some animals in 
India: they are coined terms, newly formed from Sanskritic elements, as opposed to 
terms formed from a primitive Indo-European verbal root. Masica (1991) elaborates: 

Although spokesmen for the traditional Indian view try to fight back with selective mod¬ 
ern arguments, the philological evidence alone does not allow an Indian origin of the 
Aryans. . . . the names of things peculiar to India . . . are for the most part either bor¬ 
rowed or coined (rather than “primitive”), cither of which may be taken as an indication 
that the thing in question is new to the speakers of a language. (38) 

Again, Elst takes (1996) objection to this: “Far from being an indication of more recent 
and ‘artificial’ coinage, these descriptive nouns are the typical PIE procedure for creat¬ 
ing names for animal species” (380). He notes that Proto-Indo-European *bheros ‘brown’ 
has yielded the name bear; *kasnos ‘the gray one’, hare; *ekwos (which linguistis would 
nowadays reconstruct as ‘fqekwo-) ‘the fast one’, horse; he argues that these are all crea¬ 
tures with accepted Proto-Indo-European pedigree, yet their nomenclatures consist of 
‘coined’ rather than ‘primitive’ terms. Of course, as was pointed out in chapter five, one 
has to see which words fit the appropriate Indo-European phonemic pattern, but, as we 
will encounter repeatedly with Indigenous Aryan arguments, Elst simply reverses the 

Linguistic Paleontology 115 

logic of those supporting the Aryan invasions to conclude that “the argument from the 
colourful descriptive terms in the Indo-Aryan languages will, if anything, rather plead 
in favour of the IUT [Indian Urheimat Theory] than against it” (382). As for Dhar 
(1930), he seems bewildered by such logic: “One fails to understand what has the ad¬ 
mission of Aryas into India got to do with the appellative name Hasti. Why could not 
the Aryas be natives of India and at the same time give the elephant a name . . . ‘animal 
with a hand’ . . . having been struck naturally by the animal’s unique and prominent 
trunk?” (44). 

Dhar has a point; even though -in suffixes are late derivations, Sanskrit does have an 
old term for elephant, ibha, which it shared with a Latin cognate and might even have 
been, at least according to Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, Proto-Indo-European: so the Indo- 
Aryans had no need to invent a new term. It is quite likely that the word hasti is argu¬ 
ably a secondary, later, popular, folk term that gained currency. As Mallory (1975) re¬ 
marks, “Would we lay the blame to a non-Germanic substrate should Dobbin or Rover 
replace ‘horse’ and ‘dog’?” (142). This comment is also relevant to the previous chapter 
on substratum; language is never static, old terms get dropped, and new terms are coined 
to replace them, but this need have nothing to do with immigration into a new, unfa¬ 
miliar landscape. 

The Horse 

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s book, (1995), although not without its critics, is the most 
comprehensive recent work on linguistic paleontology. Actually, there is not much in 
their reconstructed PIE environment that would compel Indigenous Aryanists to change 
their views. Northwest South Asia contains many of the features that these scholars 
have assigned to the homeland: it is certainly mountainous and forested, possesses moun¬ 
tain lakes and fast-rushing streams, can be characterized by cloudy skies with frequent 
thunderstorms, is subject to heat and cold/ 0 knew herding and agriculture from the 
seventh millennium b.c.e., contains most of the animals listed by Gamkrelidze and 
Ivanov, produces honey, and certainly had a developed water transportation system by 
the third millennium b.c.e. 

The most pressing item from Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s reconstructions that is likely 
to be raised as an objection against an Indian homeland is the much later appearance 
of the horse in the South Asian archaeological record as opposed to its much earlier use 
in the steppes, where it was domesticated six thousand years ago (Anthony, Teiegin, 
and Brown 1991, 94). Apart from one or two reports of early horse bones, which will 
be discussed in chapter 9, the earliest evidence of horses in the Indian subcontinent is 
generally dated to around the first half of the second millennium b.c.e. In the opinion 
of many scholars, this paucity of horse bones in India indicates that the Indo-Aryans 
entered this region well after dispersing from their original homeland. The horse evi¬ 
dence has long favored the Russian steppe homeland hypothesis and is die mainstay of 
Gimbutas’s homeland theory. The horse has been the primary animal for which schol¬ 
ars have tried to account in the homeland quest, since it is culturally central to the vari¬ 
ous Indo-European traditions and was clearly known to the undivided Indo-Europeans. 
Beekes (1995) finds the horse an “essential clue” providing “concrete evidence” from 

116 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

the “facts” provided by linguistic paleontology that otherwise “don’t give us very much 
to hold onto” (50). The horse is an essential part of the Indo-European world. 

Accordingly, Mallory (1989, 163) immediately eliminates the Balkans and all other 
areas where the horse was a late arrival from serious consideration as possible home¬ 
lands. Indian detractors of the Indigenous Aryan school, such as R. S. Sharma (1995) 
and Shireen Ratnagar (1996b), also lean heavily on this late arrival of horse bones on 
the subcontinent in support of their views. This lacuna in the Indian archaeological 
record tends to haunt any attempt to argue for an Indian urheimat, and even (as will be 
discussed in chapter 9), any efforts to correlate the Indus Valley Civilization with the 
Vedic culture, which is a horse-using one. Since this animal has become almost synony¬ 
mous with the Vedic Aryans and, by extension, the whole Indo-Aryan migration de¬ 
bate, the horse evidence has to detain us at length, both here, in terms of linguistic 
paleontology, and in the chapter on the Indus Valley, in terms of the archaeological 

When all is said and done, however, even the Proto-Indo-European status of this 
animal is not without problems. There seems to be a recurring opinion among linguists, 
going back at least to Fraser (1926), that considering *ekwos to have been a domesti¬ 
cated horse involves accepting some assumptions that can be called into question: “The 
significance attached to the fact that the Indogermans were acquainted with the horse . . . 
may have been exaggerated. We do not know the precise meaning of the Indogermanic 
words in question; we do not know whether they mean the domesticated or the wild 
animals.” For these types of reasons, “it is difficult to see how these names can be safely 
used for determining the original home of the Indogermans” (266-267). D’iakonov 
(1985) has reiterated this point more recently: “The Proto-Indo-European term for ‘horse’ 
shows only that horses were known (nobody doubts this); it does not mean that horses 
were already domesticated” (11 3). Dolgopolsky (1990-93), noting the denotative vague¬ 
ness of the term, argues that in horse-breeding cultures there are words for ‘mare’ and 
‘foal’. The fact that these terms cannot be reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European sug¬ 
gests to him that the referent of *eku>os must have been a wild horse (240-241); (how¬ 
ever, some linguists do reconstruct a term for mare, or, at least, that a word for ‘mare’ 
would have been expressed by a word for ‘horse’, coupled with an indicator of feminine 
gender as in classical Greek. 21 Zimmer (1990a) points out that the inference that the 
horse was known to the Indo-Europeans is primarily based on such poetic formulas as 
‘swift horse’, ‘horses of the sun’, ‘characterized by good horses’, and so on. He feels 
that “the formulas tell us nothing specific about the use of horses, but archaeology and 
history supply the necessary information” (316). This observation is significant. Diebold 
(1987) has elaborated on these points: 

IE linguistics can agree on the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European etyma 'elcwos ‘horse’. . . . 

But let us note [that) the animal terms tell us, in and of themselves, nothing about the 
cultural uses of those animals or even whether they were domesticated; but only that Proto- 
Indo-European speakers knew of some kind of horse . . . although not which equid. . . . 
The fact that the equid *ekwos was the domesticated Equus caballus spp. Linnaeus . . . 
cornels] not from etymology but rather from archaeology and paleontology. The most we 
can do with these prehistoric etyma and their reconstructed proto-meanings, without ar¬ 
chaeological and paleontological evidence (which does indeed implicate domestication), 
is to aver a Proto-Indo-European familiarity with these beasts. (53-54) 

Linguistic Paleontology 117 

There is an element of circularity with the horse evidence. Linguistics cannot tell us 
whether Proto-Indo-European *ekwos known to the Proto-Indo-Europeans was the do¬ 
mesticated Equus caballus Linn, or whether it referred to some other species of wild 
equid: the archaeology of the homeland does. But the archaeology of the homeland is 
primarily located in the Kurgan area because that is where Equus caballus Linn was first 
domesticated (an occurrence supposedly confirmed by linguistics)! Understandably, such 
logic will hardly assist in convincing those already suspicious of the steppe homeland. 
Since northwestern South Asia is the home of Equus hemonius khur, an equid sub¬ 
species called onager, I have even encountered the argument, using the logic outlined 
earlier, that Proto-Indo-European *ekwos might just as well have originally referred to 
a northwestern, South Asian hemonius khur, which was then transferred onto other 
types of equids by outgoing Indo-European tribes leaving an Afghanistan/South Asian 
homeland—although this is unlikely, since the word seems to have been generally ap¬ 
plied to denote the horse and not to donkeys or other equids (with the exception of Arme¬ 
nian where the cognate es does mean donkey). 22 Again, such possibilities are relevant not 
as serious proposals suggesting that such an occurrence actually happened but as illustra¬ 
tions of how the assumptions involved in linguistic paleontology can be challenged and 

It is also important to note that, according to Dogra (1973-74), “only once do we 
hear of actual horse riding in the Rgveda (V. 61 -62)” (54). McDonnell and Keith ([1912] 
1967) note one or two other probable references to horse riding involving terms for 
whips and reins (while remarking on some difference of opinion among scholars in 
this regard), but they stress that there is no mention of riding horses in battle, which is 
the image that has always been promoted by advocates of the classical Aryan invasion/ 
migration theory. Also of relevance is the fact that no words for typical riding equip¬ 
ment such as cheek pieces or bridles can be reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, nor 
is there a Proto-Indo-European etymon for horse riding (Zimmer 1990a, 321). Ivanov 
(1999) notes that “if horseback riding really did began at the turn of the IV mil. B.c. 
before the dispersal of Proto-Indo-European, it did not leave traces in the vocabulary of 
the later dialects. . . . Thus it cannot be proven that this type of ancient , . . horseback 
riding had originally been connected with Indo-Europeans” (233). 23 

Coleman (1988, 450) notes that five different roots are attested for the animal in 
various Indo-European languages. This suggests to him that either the protolexicon con¬ 
tained several words for horse depending on its function or that the animal was known 
only in some areas of Proto-Indo-European speech, with the principal reconstructed 
original word *eku>os being a dialectal one, and the other words innovatory after the 
dispersal. Along similar lines, Lehmann (1993, 272) argues that the fact that there is 
only one solidly reconstructable word (*ekwos) for an item that was of such centrality to 
a culture further underscores the lateness of the borrowing into Proto-Indo-European. 
He notes that modern terms of equivalent centrality, such as automobile, are known by 
a myriad of terms. The generic term is initially adopted and then various languages 
innovate their own names for the item. But only one term is reconstructable for horse 
in Proto-Indo-European underscoring the fact that it had not been in the protolexicon 
for very long before the dialects dispersed. 

Alternatively, Lehmann also argues that *ekivos could have been a later loanword 
that circulated throughout the various dialectics after their dispersal, perhaps being 

118 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

phonemically restructured in some areas. This generic loan was maintained along with 
other terms that arose in time in individual languages. Lehmann (1993, 271) refers to 
the many phonological problems, as well as desperate solutions, incurred by linguists 
in attempting to reconstruct the protoform for this term and suggests that the word may 
have been a borrowing that was adjusted to fit the phonemic pattern typical of indi- 
vidual dialects or dialect groups. 24 He illustrates this possibility by means of the example 
of batata ‘potato’ that was introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century. This word 
was restructured as patata, pataka, patalo, tapin, katin, patal, and so fordt, simply in the 
Romance languages alone. He notes that even these cognates within Romance show far 
less diversity than the variants for equus in Indo-European. This is a relevant observa¬ 
tion. In the earlier phases of the expanding linguistic continuum of the Indo-European 
languages out of the homeland, wherever that might have been, the dialectal differentia¬ 
tion within the continuum (which will be discussed in chapter 8) would not have been 
as pronounced as in later periods. So the horse or wheel, for example, could have been 
new items that were encountered at some point on the continuum, which were then 
shared, along with their names, with the other Indo-European speakers elsewhere on 
the continuum. These terms, although loans, would appear to be inherited since the 
dialectal differentiation between the languages that adopted the terms might not be 
sufficient to detect them as loans. Lehmann’s comments could support such a possibil¬ 
ity, especially since he holds that the dialectal differentiation is indeed sufficient to iden¬ 
tify this word as a loan, which might mean that the loan circulated at a later time when 
the dialects had differentiated more. 

If these linguists are corrent that the word for horse could have circulated after the 
dispersal of the Indo-Europeans, and then been restructured according to individual 
dialects, then stating that the Indo-Europeans knew the horse before their dispersal and 
therefore must have inhabited an area wherein the horse is native (and eliminating other 
areas where the evidence for the horse is a later phenomenon) becomes less convincing. 
Indeed, the corollary of all these arguments suggesting that *ekwos is either a late Proto- 
Indo-European word or a loanword that circulated after the dispersal of the Indo-Euro¬ 
pean languages is that the homeland could not have been in the steppes where the horse 
is native. Had the homeland been there, the Proto-Indo-Europeans would have always 
been around horses and would have had an ancient word for the animal in their lexi¬ 
con, and not a more recent or a restructured one. 

However, not all linguists would agree that the word is either late or borrowed. If we 
accept that the word is inherited from the proto-period, and accept that the Indo-Europeans 
were an undivided entity until somewhere between 4500 and 2500 b.c.e., as most scholars 
would hold, then we have anything from about a one to three millennia gap between 
when the horse was known to the Indo-Europeans and when it is unambiguously evi¬ 
denced in the South Asian archaeological record. This is irrespective of whether the 
horse was domesticated or wild. How can a South Asian homeland account for this? 

Allowing that *ekwos does refer to a domesticated caballus Linn, the most convinc¬ 
ing argument used by the Indigenous Aryan school to account for its absence in the 
subcontinent is that horse domestication may well have occurred in the steppes, since 
this is the natural habitat of the animal, but it is an unwarranted assumption to then 
conclude that the Indo-European homeland also must have been in the same area. As 
D’iakonov remarks: “The Proto-Indo-European term for ‘horse’ shows only that horses 

Linguistic Paleontology 119 

were known” (113). Indeed Ivanov (1999), who has undertaken by far the most com¬ 
prehensive study of the cognate terms for horse in Indo-European as well as the adja¬ 
cent languages of Northern Caucasian and Hurrian, points out that “the Indo-Euro¬ 
pean homeland need not be identical to the area of horse domestication, but should be 
connected to it. The ways in which names and technical knowledge . . . spread should 
be explored” (1971). Thus Talageri (1993), argues that “the horse could have been very 
well known to the proto-Indo-Europeans in their original homeland before their dis¬ 
persal from it (which is really the only thing indicated by the facts), without the horse 
necessarily being a native of that homeland, or they themselves being its domesticators” 
(158). The horse, according to this line of argument, was an import into India—a highly 
prized, elite item. The paucity of horse bones in the early archaeological record is due 
precisely to the fact that the animal, although highly valued, was a rare commodity used 
in elite priestly or military circles. According to the horse specialist Bokonyi (1997): 

It is well known that wild horses did not exist in India in post-Pleistocene times, in the 
time of horse domestication. Horse domestication could therefore not be carried out there, 
and horses reached the Indian subcontinent in an already domesticated form coming 
from the Inner Asiatic horse domestication centres via the Transcaspian steppes, North¬ 
east Iran, South Afghanistan and North Pakistan. The northwestern part of this route is 
already more or less known; the Afghan and Pakistani part has to be checked in the 
future. (300) 

In fact, the horse has always been highly valued in India. From the Vedic, through 
the Epic, and up to the Sultanate period, it has always been an elite item, and it has 
always been an import. According to Trautmann (1982), “the supply of horses . . . has 
been a preoccupation of the rulers of India, from, nearly, one end of its recorded his¬ 
tory to the other. ... It has yet to be determined why exactly India has never been self- 
sufficient in horses. Climate? A relative scarcity of pasture?” For our purposes, the fact 
remains that “whatever die reason, the stock has always had to be replenished by im¬ 
ports, and the imports came from westward in the ancient period. ... It is a structure 
of its history, then, that India has always been dependent upon western and central 
Asia for horses” (261). 

Elst (1996) ruminates on what a prehistoric scenario might look like from an Indig¬ 
enous Aryan point of view: 

The first wave of Indo-European emigrants . . . may have reached the Caspian and Black 
Sea coasts and domesticated the horse there, or learnt from the natives how to domesti¬ 
cate the horse. They communicated the new knowledge along with a few specimens of 
the animal to their homeland . . . along with the appropriate terminology, so that it became 
part of the cultural scene depicted in Vedic literature. Meanwhile, the Indo-European 
pioneers on the Black Sea made good use of the horse to speed up their expansion into 
Europe. (40) 

The logic here is that the horse is highly prized in all the literary records throughout 
Indian history, but it has never been indigenous (although foreign breeds have been 
imported and bred on the subcontinent with varying degrees of success in the North¬ 
west-later Vedic texts speak about the fine horses of Kandahar and other places). 25 That 
it was central to the Vedic texts, despite not being indigenous, is therefore no indica¬ 
tion of the indigenousness of the Indo-Aryans themselves—it was the horse that was 

120 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

imported, not the Indo-Aryans. Elst is extending this same logic to argue that all the 
Indo-Europeans could have been situated in India, where the horse was a highly prized 
but imported and rare luxury item in the collective Indo-European consciousness. The 
animal was encountered in the steppe area by the northwesternmost border of the Indo- 
European language continuum that was expanding out of India. The creature, and its 
name, were then relayed back to other areas of the language continuum, including In¬ 
dia. Lehmann observed drat the term could have been restructured according to the 
various dialectics that were germinating in this continuum, making the term appear 
inherited rather then a loan. Since the horse was such a useful creature, but also a rare 
one, it became a much prized item in the Vedic sense. 

While all this may be possible from a linguistic point of view, from an archaeologi¬ 
cal perspective the burden of proof will still remain with anyone who proposes that a 
particular animal or item existed in the proto-historic period. As will be discussed in 
the chapter on the archaeology of the Indus Valley, the horse remains a problem for the 
Indigenous position even if, as Renfrew (1999) and others hold, “the significance of the 
horse for the understanding of the distribution of early Indo-European has been much 
exaggerated” (281). 

Other scholars have tried to compensate for the lack of horse bones in India by coun¬ 
tering that the Russian steppes also lack faunal remains that are clearly Indo-European. 
Such negative evidence was used by patriotic European-homeland promoters in the nine¬ 
teenth century to reject an Asian steppe homeland because of the absence there of another 
important IE creature with very well attested cognates—the bee (and its honey). Dhar 
rejected the steppes of southern Russia because they were unsuitable for agriculture. 
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov have used the presence of exotic items such as the monkey and 
elephants in Indo-European as evidence also opposing a Russian homeland. Most recently, 
as discussed in chapter 1, Krell (1998) has produced lists to argue that the Kurgan area is 
significandy incompatible with the evidence of linguistic paleontology. Using such nega¬ 
tive evidence, by the same logic used to eliminate India as a candidate, ultimately any 
potential homeland can be disqualified due to lacking some fundamental Proto-Indo-Eu¬ 
ropean item or another. In addition, it has long been pointed out that this use of negative 
evidence is suspect, since we have many examples of other flora and fauna that must have 
been known to the earliest Indo-European-speaking communities but show minimal or 
no evidence of cognates across Indo-European stocks (Mallory 1997). 

Criticisms of the Method 

Linguists have long been aware of the speculative nature of linguistic paleontology: “All 
prehistoric reconstruction is of course purely hypothetical, that is, based on conjectural 
assumptions. Stricdy speaking any conjectural assumption is a guess. ... A prehistorian 
depends on . . . his imagination . . . trained by experience” (Thieme 1964, 585); “The 
apparent existence of a common term in the language, which is attained through recon¬ 
struction on the basis of the attestations in the daughter languages, does not prove drat 
the item it denotes actually existed in the relevant original society” (Polome 1992, 370). 26 
Other scholars have been much more radically dismissive of the whole premise of recon¬ 
structing a hypothetical language and culture on the basis of cognate words present in 

Linguistic Paleontology 121 

textual or spoken languages existing thousands ofyears later. The linguist J. Fraser (1926), 
for example, presented a well-known (but faulty) caricature of the whole enterprise by re¬ 
constructing a proto-Romance scenario from the paleolinguistic evidence of the historic 
Romance languages: “By th[is] same method of investigation we shall discover that the 
Romans had emperors, and a republic; drat drey had priests, called by a name represented 
by the French pretre, and bishops; that drey drank beer, probably, but certainly coffee, and 
that they smoked tobacco” (269). Unfortunately, biere, tabac, and cafe are all loanwords, 
minimizing the persuasiveness of Fraser’s caricature (which was more accurately a recon¬ 
struction of the Vulgar Latin of much later times), but linguists disillusioned with this 
whole method nonetheless supported dre spirit of his critique: 27 

Now the more sophisticated among us could easily object here that it would take a great 
deal of naivete on the part of linguistic palaeontologists to propound such views, . . . yet 
such naivete seems to enjoy the status of high acumen, as anyone can see who reads some 
of the numerous volumes that deal widt the “Indo-Europeans,” their lives and their mo¬ 
res. But if the authorship of such works is not astonishing enough, the uncritical and 
admiring credulity bestowed upon them by a vast number of scholars certainly is. (Pulgram 
1958, 147) 28 

Latinists in particular, like Lazzeroni, supported Pulgram’s punto fundamentals and rejected 
the capability of linguistics to ever be able to determine where a protolanguage was spoken, 
even if it could reconstruct portions of what was spoken. 

Fraser (1926) also pointed out that words in language A, associated with particular 
geographic locations, travel freely and are borrowed by speakers of language B outside 
those locations. Such words, if found by the linguistic paleontologist, could be erroneously- 
interpreted as indicating that the speakers of language B originated in the territory of lan¬ 
guage A. These criticisms are well worth quoting, bearing the horse evidence in mind: 

The English language has laid under contribution almost every language on the face of 
the earth. We speak freely of the fauna and flora of other countries, not merely [of] 
England. . . . Names like ‘lion’, ‘tiger’, ‘wine’, ‘cotton’ . . . and hundreds of other things 
which are not indigenous in England but are perfectly familiar to every speaker of the 
English language all over the world. ... 1 do not see how scholars placed in the same 
relation to English as we are to Indo-Germanic could tell that the Englishman knew 
cotton, wine, and the like only through literature or as articles of commerce, and not 
because he lived in a region which produced them all. That the palaeontologist of the 
future . . . should describe the Englishman as tending his vines in the neighborhood of 
tiger-infested jungles, would not, perhaps, be very astonishing. (272) 

There are, of course, ways that a linguist can, in some cases at least, determine whether 
a word is a later loan or an item inherited from the protolanguage. In the latter case, the 
phonemic or morphological properties of the word and its root structure would be ex¬ 
pected to be consistent with the rest of the language in which it occurs. As noted in 
chapter 5, the basic axiom is that if a word is inherited from the protolanguage, it must 
show all of the sound shifts that its phonemes should have undergone over the relevant 
period of time (i.e., that other words in the language with similar phonemes and in 
similar linguistic contexts would have undergone) according to the rules of evolutionary 
sound and change. If any phonemes in the word fail to demonstrate a required sound 
shift, or if the word shows a non-I.E. root structure, then it is a good candidate for 

122 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

consideration as a loanword. Nonetheless, Fraser’s objections are still echoed by schol¬ 
ars such as Renfrew (1987, 1988) in his scathing (and criticized in turn) critique of 
linguistic paleontolgy, to the approval of Coleman (1988), and should be kept in mind 
when building up a theory overly dependent on cognate words. As Lehmann (1993) 
and others have argued, Proto-Indo-European *ekwos could have been a new innova¬ 
tion or loanword that, along with knowledge of horse use, spread throughout the dis¬ 
persed Indo-European- language-speaking area after the breakup of Proto-Indo-European 
(although not later than the stage of Old Indo-Iranian). 29 

Such inherent imprecision of linguistic paleontology has provoked consistent criti¬ 
cisms of the method by linguists. Keith (1933) had long pointed out that: 

The determination of the Indo-Euopean civilization is precisely the point which affords 
least hope of any satisfactory result. It rests on linguistic evidence pure and simple, and 
it is open to the gravest doubt whether such evidence is capable of giving the results which 
are claimed for it by those who seek to determine die Indo-European home. ... It should 
suffice to remember that on the basis usually adopted we would have to conclude that the 
Indo-Europeans knew snow and feet, but were ignorant of rain and hands. The difficulty, 
of course, is in theory recognized by all who deal with the issue; the trouble is that in 
practice they tend more or less completely to ignore it, and to create for us a picture of the 
Indo-Europeans which is probably a mere delusive shadow of the actual civilization of 
the people. Yet it should be a warning when we find that linguistically we may assert that 
the Indo-Europeans knew butter but were unacquainted with milk. (189-190) 

Pulgram (1958) was even more dismissive: 

It is an elementary mistake to equate common Indo-European words with Proto-Indo- 
European words and to base thereon conclusions concerning the Proto-European Urvolk 
or Urheimat. Yet this is precisely what has often been done. . . . impassioned linguistic 
palaeontologists have gone even further. From the existence of certain items of vocabu¬ 
lary in all or a majority of the extant Indo-European languages, and blandly ignoring all 
the pitfalls just noted, they even fabricated conclusions concerning the social organization, 
the religion, the mores, the race of the Proto-Indo-European. (Pulgram 1958, 145-146) 

More recently, Coleman (1988) while noting that some progress had been made, and 
more could be expected from the method, nonetheless confers that “the arbitrary and 
unrigorous methods that have characterized much of this linguistic paleontology cer¬ 
tainly deserve Renfrew’s scepticism. . . . Most of the lexemes that can be confidendy 
assigned on the basis of widespread attestation ... do not tell us much” (450). McNairn, 
commenting on Kossina’s and Gimbutas’s employment of the method, remarks that 
“the clues afforded by linguistic paleontology were either so general that they accommo¬ 
dated both centres without much difficulty, or they were so hypothetical that they could 
be easily ignored if unsuitable” (quoted in Anthony 1995b, 96). 

Most recently, Krell (1998) argued that “the old, pliable crutch of linguistic paleon¬ 
tology should certainly be abandoned, at least until the theoretical uses and limitations 
of the Proto-Indo-European lexicon have been more precisely defined” (280). She points 
out that the reconstructed lexicon does not provide a linguistic picture of a group of 
Proto-Indo-European speakers at one point in time, or even in one location in space; it 
may well represent a linguistic continuum of several millennia into which different lexi¬ 
cal items were introduced at different stages. Most important, she reiterates the com- 

Linguistic Paleontology 123 

mon objection that it is virtually impossible to identify the exact or even approximate 
referent of a reconstructed lexical item: “It is imperative, in working with the problem 
of Indo-European origins, that the contents of the PIE lexicon not be treated too literally. 
Historical linguistics has shown numerous examples of how dramatically the meaning 
of a given word can shift in the course of a few centuries, let alone several millennia” 
(279). She concludes that “the use of so-called ‘linguistic paleontology’ . . . has always 
been a popular method in the construction of Proto-Indo-European urheimat theories. 
It rests entirely on the supposition that the meaning of a proto-form can be reconstructed 
beyond a reasonable doubt, a supposition which I argue is false” (279). 


Despite such inherent problems, theories about the Indo-European homeland are still 
sometimes predicated on linguistic paleontology for their geographic identification. 30 Thus 
Mallory (1989) first uses the method to delineate a broad area and then concludes: “We 
have pushed the linguistic evidence about as far as we may; now it is the turn of the ar¬ 
chaeologists” (165). Clearly, however, anyone disenchanted by the initial linguistic method 
is not likely to give much credence to the secondary auxiliary archaeological evidence that 
might be called in for support. And archaeology by itself, as Talageri (1993) notes, echo¬ 
ing objections outlined in chapter 1 that have been repeatedly made, tells us nothing about 
the language spoken by the members of a material culture. 31 One material culture does 
not indicate one linguistic entity, nor does the spread of a particular material culture nec¬ 
essarily equate the spread of a particular language group, any more than the spread of a 
language group corresponds to the distribution of a specific material culture (135). 

One has only to glance through any of the various homeland hypotheses to see how 
the same linguistic evidence is utilized very differently by different scholars. Depending 
on one’s own perception of things, one will find alternative theories far too compli¬ 
cated. Any claimant for the homeland has to engage in special pleading, or at least feels 
that other contestants are more extreme pleaders, which underscores the limitations of 
the method of linguistic paleontology. The judgment on Occam’s razor is very likely to 
be perceived quite differently in India than in the West. 

Ultimately, the dramatically different scenarios still arrived at by different scholars using 
linguistic paleontology are, in themselves, sufficient proof of its unreliability, if not inade¬ 
quacy, at least in its present state. If Gimbutas is satisfied that linguistic paleontology can 
support the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European par excellence as an aggressive, mounted, 
nomad warrior where Renfrew (albeit dismissive of the whole method) believes it cannot 
exclude his gende, sedentary agriculturist, or if the method can be used to promote the 
environment of the proto-urvollc as the harsh, cold, and austere northern one of the steppes 
but yet be adopted by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov to suggest a warmer and more exotic southern 
one with tropical animals, then obviously something is inadequate widr the present state 
of the method. If the method is so problematic or limited in reliability, and treated sceptically 
or rejected even by most present-day Western linguists, one is forced to question how it 
can be used as conclusive or even persuasive evidence to compel disenchanted Indian 
scholars to believe in die theory of Aryan invasions or migrations into the Indian subcon¬ 
tinent predicated on this type of data. 


Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 

Potentially devastating evidence against the case of the Indigenous Aryanisrs is the exis¬ 
tence of loanwords between Indo-European, Indolranian, and Indo-Aryan, and non- 
Indo-European language families. These suggest the geographic proximity of the Indo- 
Europeans and/or the Indo-Aryans with other language groups far from the horizens of 
the Vedic Indo-Aryans. Loanwords are often taken to be an essential ingredient in geo¬ 
graphically tracing the prehistories of language families, since, if they occur in sufficient 
numbers, they suggest that the families in question were once situated adjacent to each 
other. Accordingly, if Proto-Indo-European contains loanwords from language families 
far from South Asia, then these loans provide compelling evidence that Proto-Indo- 
European could not have originated in South Asia. The same method applies to Indo¬ 
lranian and Indo-Aryan. Loans between these and other languages provide relevant data 
for attempting to chart respective points of origin, migrations and trajectories of these 

Semitic Loans in Indo-European: Nichols’s Model 

The detection of such loanwords is the primary' method used by a number of linguists 
who locate the homeland in the Near East. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, for example, to a 
great extent base their homeland thesis on the number of loanwords, particularly from 
Semitic and South Caucasian (Kartvelian), that they trace to Proto-Indo-European. 1 This 
evidence suggests to them that the Proto-Indo-Europeans must have been situated adjacent 
to the Semitic and Caucasian language families, somewhere in the vicinity of Armenia. 
Etymologizing rarely produces consensus, as we have already seen, and most of Gamkrelidze 


Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 125 

and Ivanov’s etymologies have been challenged in one way or another by D’iakonov, an 
advocate of a Balkan homeland, but supported by Dolgopolsky, who also accepts a Near 
East homeland, albeit more in central Anatolia (and with different dialectal maneuverings 
therefrom). Shevoroshkin likewise supported a homeland in the eastern part of Asia Minor 
but differed from Gamkrelidze and Ivanov about whether there were significant loans 
between the north and south Caucasian languages and Proto-Indo-European and whether 
these language groups were therefore immediately adjacent to each other. 2 

With regards to such Semitic and Caucasian loanwords in Proto-Indo-European, Nichols, 
who translated Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s magnum opus from Russian into English, of¬ 
fers a theory that is particularly relevant to our line of inquiry. Her methodology involves 
tracing the linguistic history of Semitic cultural loanwords from urban and cosmopolitan 
Mesopotamia into the surrounding areas (which might be considered to have had “lower” 
culture and therefore to have been more prone to borrow). Loanwords often emanate out 
from a central area—especially if this area is perceived as a “higher” or more prestigious 
urban culture—and are borrowed by adjacent languages, which can rephonemicize the words 
according to their own phonetic system. Nichols notes that these loanwords may then be 
passed on in turn to the other neighbors of these languages (which are thereby not imme¬ 
diately adjacent to Mesopotamia but twice removed). These further rephonemicize the words 
according to their own sound systems. An expert linguist could, at least theoretically, trace 
those words’ history, which could be indicative of the relative geographic situation of all 
these languages, and in particular of Proto-Indo-European. The assumptions here (which 
can obviously be called into question, since loans can travel vast distances through trade 
or other means) are that significant loanwords between language groups indicate geographic 
proximity of these groups, and lack of loanwords indicates that the languages in question 
were not immediately adjacent to each other. ? 

In terms of linguistic geography, Nichols translates these findings into the following 
conclusions: Proto-Indo-European could not have been situated between Mesopotamia 

Northeast Caucasian 

Northwest Caucasian 

(Nakh-Daghestanian) , . _ 


Nichols’s schematic rendition of Indo-European in relation to other languages (after 
Nichols, 1997). 

126 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

and the Black Sea coast, since culturally laden vocabulary emanating from Mesopotamia 
did not surface in the language spoken in this coastal area, West Caucasian (Abkhaz- 
Circassian), via Proto-Indo-European. 4 Proto-Indo-European was not situated between 
Mesopotamia and the eastern Caucasian foothills and Caspian coastal plain for similar 
reasons: the language spoken there, East Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian), also shows 
no sign of Proto-Indo-European loanwords. As an aside, and irrespective of any pos¬ 
sible Semitic loans from Mesopotamia, we can note that if Proto-Indo-European did not 
impart any of its own native words either into the languages spoken on the Black Sea 
Coast or into those spoken in the eastern Caucasian foothills, then the claim of geo¬ 
graphic distance between Proto-Indo-European and these languages is reinforced, at least 
from the perspective of this method. These data are further obstacles for those propos¬ 
ing a steppe homeland. 5 

Be that as it may, at this point Nichols deduces that Proto-Indo-European did not lie 
to the northwest or northeast of Mesopotamia. It did lie in a direct trajectory of Semitic 
and Sumerian loanwords but not one immediately adjacent to Mesopotamia, since, accord¬ 
ing to Nichols, the Semitic loans in the protolanguage show signs not of direct borrow¬ 
ing but of filtration through an intermediary. 6 Nichols accordingly situates Proto-Indo- 
European still farther to the northeast, in Bactria-Sogdiana, since that is where it could 
spread across the steppe. 7 She reinforces dris with an innovative model of language spread 
and dialect geography which will be discussed in chapter 8. This location, needless to 
say, would be welcomed by the Indigenous Aryanists since it overlaps the area under 
consideration here, namely, an Afghanistan/Pakistan/Northwest Indian locus of origin. 8 
I will return to Nichols later. 

Finno-Ugric Loans 

Of more pressing significance to the Indo-Iranian languages are the loanwords that have 
been transmitted from them into the Finno-Ugric language family, which was probably 
spread throughout northern Europe and northwestern Asia in the prehistoric period. 9 
Finno-Ugric contains numerous loanwords that, depending on the linguist, have been 
identified as either Indo-Iranian, Iranian, or Indo-Aryan, indicating that these languages 
must have been adjacent to each other in prehistoric times. Since there is absolutely no 
evidence suggesting the presence of Finno-Ugric speakers near the Indian subcontinent, 
it is reasonable to conclude that Indo-Iranian speakers must have been present in north¬ 
west central Asia. How, then, could they have been indigenous to India or, even, the far 
Northwest of the subcontinent and Afghanistan? The conventional explanation for this 
is that the Indo-Iranians, after leaving their original homeland wherever that might have 
been, sojourned in areas adjacent to the Finno-LJgric speakers before proceeding on to 
their historic destinations in Iran and India. 

S. S. Misra (1992) has offered a rather different explanation. Misra draws attention 
to one rather significant feature regarding these loanwords, which he believes is deci¬ 
sive in determining the direction of language flow corresponding to Indo-Aryan move¬ 
ments: the loans are from Indo-Iranian into Finno-Ugric. There are no loans from Finno- 
Ugric into Indo-Iranian. This is a crucial point. Misra argues that had the Indo-Iranians 
been neighbors with the Finno-Ugrians in the regions to the north of the Caspian Sea 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 127 

The Finno-Ugric language family. 

for so many centuries, then both languages would have borrowed from each other. If 
the Indo-Iranians, as per the standard view of things, had, then, journeyed on toward 
their historic destinations in the East, they should have brought some Finno-Ugric loans 
with them in their lexicons, at least a few of which should reasonably be expected to 
have surfaced in the earliest textual sources of India and Iran. But, as Burrow noted 
some time ago, it is usually quite clear that these words have been borrowed by Finno- 
Ugric from Indo-Iranian and not vice versa (1973b, 26). 10 There do not seem to be any 
Finno-Ugric loans evidenced in the Veda or the Avesta. This, for Misra, indicates that 
the Indo-Iranians never went from the area neighboring the Finno-Ugrics down to Iran 
and India; they went from India to the Caspian Sea area, where they encountered Finno- 
Ugrians. The Finno-Ugrians, in this version of events, could therefore freely borrow 
from the Indo-Iranians, but since those emigrating Indo-Iranians never returned to Iran 
and India (at least in large enough numbers to affect the lexicon back home), no Finno- 
Ugric loans ever surfaced in the Indo-Iranian literary sources. This version of events 
accounts for the one-way borrowing. The argument is ingenious. However, as with every¬ 
thing else, counter arguments can be brought forth, such as the power dynamics of socio¬ 
linguistics (whereby a lower status group may borrow terms from a higher one without 
the latter, in turn, borrowing terms from it). Moreover, Redei (1983) finds it “possible” 
that the Uralic languages did not just borrow from the Aryan ones but also loaned them 
words as well (15). Joki (1973), while criticizing the work of earlier linguists who had 
attempted to find Uralic loans on the Indo-European side, nonetheless states that “in 
his view, it is not impossible” that a dozen or so such cases can be argued in the Aryan 
languages (373). 

Since these loans are specifically from Indo-Iranian (and not Proto-Indo-European) 
Dolgopolsky (1990-93) has employed a parallel logic (in support of his Balkan home- 

128 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

land) to insist that Proto-Indo-European could never have been spoken in the steppes 
north of the Caspian Sea: 

What really matters is the fact that there are no proto-Indo-European loanwords in Uralic 
(or Finno-Ugric) and no Uralic or Finno-Ugric loans in Proto-Indo-European. It strongly 
suggests that there was no territorial vicinity between Proto-Indo-European and proto-Uralic 
or proto-Finno-Ugric, that is that Proto-Indo-European was not spoken in or near the Volga 
or Ural region, including the steppes to the North of the Caspian Sea (Gimbutas’s “Indo- 
European homeland”). (242-243) 

This, too, is a significant observation, particularly in view of the fact that Nichols has 
pointed out that there were no Proto-Indo-European loans in the other languages bor¬ 
dering the steppes on the Black Sea coast and eastern Caucasian foothills. 11 While most 
linguists seem to agree that the loans are Indo-Iranian and not Proto-Indo-European, 
there is disagreement over whether they are specifically Indo-Iranian, Iranian, or Indo- 
Aryan. 12 Misra (1992), in addition to reversing the direction of language flow, is of the 
opinion that most of the words can be accounted for as Old Indo-Aryan forms and not 
Iranian. Shevoroskin also considers them to be Indo-Aryan (and even Middle Indo- 
Aryan). Most recently, Lubotsky (forthcoming) concurs that the oldest layer of borrow¬ 
ings are often of Sankrit and not of Iranian (6). D’iakonov (1985) and Dolgopolsky 
(1993) consider them Indo-Iranian. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1983b) in contrast, are 
quite specific that they should be interpreted as early Iranian and not as Indo-Iranian, 
“or even less as Old Indie” (67). Joki (1973, 364-365) also considers them to be mostly 
Iranian or Middle Iranian. As Mallory (1997) quips: “Will the ‘real’ linguist please 
stand up? It should be obvious that linguists have as much difficulty in establishing the 
chronological relationships between loanwords as any other ‘historical science’” (98). 

The identification of the words as Indo-Aryan is crucial to Misra’s attempt to date 
the Rgveda, His line of reasoning is predicated on the work of the Hungarian linguist 
Harmatta, who analyzed these loanwords into eleven consecutive chronological periods 
based on different stages of phonemic development. In Harmatta’s schema, the earliest 
loans are Indo-Iranian, and later loans contain a variety of Iranian forms (recognizable 
as Proto-Iranian, Old Iranian, and Middle Iranian), 11 stretching over a very long period 
from the first half of the fifth millennium b.c.e . 14 to the Hun invasion of Europe in the 
fourth century a.d. 

In Misra’s analysis (1992), only the last (and chronologically latest) of the eleven 
stages of Harmatta’s list contains forms clearly Iranian; all the earlier stages contain 
Indo-Aryan forms. 15 Since Misra considers Old Iranian to have had a similar linguistic 
and temporal relationship with Old Indo-Aryan as Middle Indo-Aryan had—namely, 
that it was later—he concludes that the earliest loans were from the period before the 
Iranians had split from the Indo-Aryans. Since Misra clearly considers proto-Indo-Iranian 
to be very similar to Old Indo-Aryan, and since Harmatta had speculated that the oldest 
Indo-Iranian loanwords occurred in the fifth millennium b.c.e,, Misra concludes that, 
if this date is correct, Indo-Aryan must also be assigned to this period and therefore be 
very much older than the commonly assigned date of 1200 b.c.e. One must note at this 
point, that the value of Misra’s work is dependent on the value of that of Harmatta’s. 
In any event, the dating of the Veda will be discussed in chapter 12 and is peripheral 
to Misra’s essential point; for the purposes of the present discussion, Misra’s main ar- 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 129 

gument is that since the loanwords are only from Indo-Iranian into Finno-Ugric and 
not vice versa, is just as likely, or even more likely, that the Indo-Iranians came from 
South Asia or Afghanistan to the Caspian Sea area and not vice versa. 

It must, be noted however, that a possible objection to both Nichols’s and Misra’s 
east-to-west direction of language flow has been raised by some linguists (Shevoroskin 
1987; Dolgopolsky 1989). These scholars hold that “the linguistic evidence, indeed, fully 
corroborates the eastward direction of the migration of Indo-Iranians," which they argue are 
evidenced by the chronological spread of loanwords from west to east (Shevoroskin 1987, 
229; italics in original). The argument is that loanwords in the East Caucasian language 
are the oldest and bear witness to Old Indo-Iranian, while the Finno-Ugrian family of 
the lower Volga Valley has somewhat later loanwords from Middle Indo-Iranian. Accord¬ 
ing to Shevoroskin, loans from the Late Indo-Iranian linguistic period can be found in 
languages emanating further eastward across the steppe. 16 These findings fit comfort¬ 
ably with their proposed Near Eastern homeland: “The historical implications of this 
linguistic evidence are obvious: the proto-Aryans appear to move eastwards across the 
Ponto-Caspian steppes, from the region north of the Caucasus, where they were in contact 
with proto-Nakh-Daghestanian, into the Lower Volga area, where drey contacted proto- 
Finno-Ugrians” (Dolgopolsky 1989, 29). 

As we have seen with the Finno-Ugric borrowings, however, there is unlikely to be 
agreement among linguists regarding the exact linguistic (and therefore chronological) 
identification of such loans as Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, or Iranian—what to speak of 
more subtle distinctions such as whether they are Old, Middle, or Late Indo-Iranian. 
Clearly, tracing chronological trajectories of loanwords from east to west or west to east 
will entail levels of linguistic sophistication and an adequate degree of agreement among 
linguists that is something we have yet to look forward to. And such research would 
have to account for all the Indo-Iranian loanwords in the Caucasian and Ugric lan¬ 
guages, not just a select few. 17 Moreover, even if it could be determined that Nakh- 
Dagestanian (East Caucasian) has older loanwords than Finno-Ugric from an unified 
Indo-Iranian period, these data are not incompatible with a position similar to Nichols’s 
model (1998) which will be considered in the next chapter. In her model, Older loanwords 
could have belonged to an earlier wave of Indo-Iranian from an eastern locus of origin 
which impacted Finno-Ugric, and this could have been followed by a later wave of Middle 
Indo-Iranian, which influenced the more southerly Caucasian area. Ultimately, there is 
little in the history of loanwords that can eliminate a variety of historical possibilities. 

Other Traces of Indo-Aryan 

The Finno-Ugrics were not the only other language family to borrow from the Indo- 
Iranians, who seem to have left linguistic traces across large areas of Asia over a wide 
time span. Where Nichols seems to have found Proto-Indo-European loans, Harmatta 
finds evidence of a number of proto-Iranian or proto-Indo-Aryan loans in the Caucasian 
and Ketic languages. The Iranians seemed to have gone as far as the borders of China 
and Korea, since here, too, he finds Iranian loanwords; again Misra considers them to 
be Indo-Aryan (on the grounds that they show s in places where Iranian shows h). Russian 
linguists have also pointed out Indo-Iranian, or possibly Indo-Aryan, tribal names and 

130 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

hydronyms in the Kuban region north of die Black Sea, as well as around the Caspian 
Sea. 18 Telegin (1990) draws attention to thirty Iranian hydronyms in the Dnieper basin. 
There are also Indo-Aryan and Iranian terms in European hydronomy (Schmid 1987, 
331). The Russian linguist Karamshoyev (1981) finds Iranian words (to which Misra 
agrees) in the Pamir languages of Afghanistan—the much favored homeland of the nine¬ 
teenth century. 

Burrow (1973a) found evidence of Indo-Aryans in western Iran, soudi of the Caspian 
Sea. The Avesta, which is geographically centered in eastern Iran, makes mention of the 
Mazanian daevas, who are worshipers of the Indo-Aryan gods. According to Burrow, Mazana 
is known in Iranian sources as the territory between die southern shore of the Caspian 
Sea and the Alburz Mountains. These daeva worshipers, although still in existence at the 
time of the inscriptions of Xerxes, were condemned by the reformer Zarathustra, perse¬ 
cuted, and eventually subsumed by the Iranians from the East. Parpola (1988, 127) notes 
that in Latin sources, Strabo (11.9.2) refers to a people called Parnoi who belonged to the 
Da(h)as, who were said to have lived in Margiana, from where they founded the Arsacid 
empire of Parthia. Actually, in this instance, we have a clear indication of a movement 
from east to west, since the Dahae came to live on the east coast of the Caspian Sea, north 
of the Hyrcania (Gurgun), where there is still a district called Dahistan. Parpola notes that 
the Parnoi corresponds to the Sanskrit term Pani (if this is accepted as a Prakrit develop¬ 
ment <*Prni). The Dahas/Da/iae correspond to the Dasa and the Panis to another tribe 
that fought the Aryan Divodasa on the banks of the Sarasvati. 

When the unambiguous Indo-Aryan names found in documents in the Middle East 
(to be discussed later), are also taken into account, the picture that emerges through lin¬ 
guistic and philological sources is of Indo-lranian, Indo-Aryan or Iranian tribes spread 
out over an extended period and across a vast area stretching from India to the Middle 
East and across to the Great Hungarian Plain, up to the north of the Caspian Sea, and 
over as far as the Ordos in northern China (Harmatta 1992, 359). These have invariably 
been taken by Western scholars to be reminiscences or preserved traces of the Indo-Ary¬ 
ans and Iranians on their way to India and Iran from a western point of origin. 

Misra’s contention is that, since none of these tribes brought Finno-Ugric Cauca¬ 
sian (or even Chinese or Korean) loanwords from these areas into the Avesta or Veda, 
they could not have been coming from these areas to Iran or India. If, on the other 
hand, the reverse were to be considered—that they were traveling from India and east¬ 
ern Iran/Afghanistan to these other areas—then the lacunae would be much better ac¬ 
counted for. In such a scenario, these other language families could have logically bor¬ 
rowed from these emigrating Indo-Aryans and Iranians before subsuming them. Other 
Indian scholars have responded to such evidence in similar ways. Let us see if the Avesta 
can discount these claims or throw any light on the Indo-lranian homeland. 

The Avestan Evidence 

The oldest parts of the Avesta, which is the body of texts preserving the ancient canon 
of the Iranian Zarathustran tradition, is linguistically and culturally very close to the 
material preserved in the Rgveda. Zarathustra preserved some of the cultural Indo-lra¬ 
nian features common to the Rgveda and developed, reformed, or rejected others 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 


(Humbach 1991, 2). 19 Operating within the same social and religious milieu that is 
reflected in the Rgveda, Zarathustra’s teachings are to some extent defined vis-a-vis this 
milieu. Both cultures, for example, place enormous economic importance on cattle. 
However, unlike in the Vedic ethos, where cattle raiding is glorified as a heroic under¬ 
taking, Zarathustra condemns such exploits as wicked and selfish. Likewise, he opposes 
the worship of devas (who are the chief benefactors in the later Vedic tradition), demon¬ 
izes them, and supplants them in terms of righteousness with the benevolent Ahuras 
(Vedic asuras, who are in turn depicted as malevolent entities in most of the Vedic tradi¬ 
tion). 20 There seems to be economic and religious interaction and perhaps rivalry operat¬ 
ing here, which justifies scholars in placing the Vedic and Avestan worlds in close chro¬ 
nological, geographic, and cultural proximity to each other not far removed from a joint 
Indo-Iranian period. If the evidence preserved in the Iranian tradition, the Avesta, con¬ 
tradicts the hypothesis of an Indo-Aryan linguistic community indigenous to India, then 
one need waste no further time speculating on how the other members of the Indo- 
European family might be accounted for in the Indigenous Aryan scenario. 

Linguistically, the oldest sections of the Avesta are almost identical to the language 
of the Rgveda. This oldest part is called the Yasna (Vedic yajna), which is dte principal 
liturgical work of the sacred canon and accounts for about a third of its bulk. The nucleus 
of the Yasna consists of the five Gathas (Vedic gatha ‘song’), a collection of seventeen 
hymns (each Gatha containing from one to seven hymns), which are the only authentic 
literary heritage left to posterity by Zarathustra himself (Humbach 1991, 3). Along with 
a few other texts in the corpus, these Gathas contain the most archaic language of the 
Avesta. The language displays the same richness as Vedic in its verbal inflection, con¬ 
tains almost identical morphology, exhibits the same processes of word formation, and 
consists, for the most part, of words that have cognate forms in Vedic that are distin¬ 
guished by minor phonetic changes (Kanga and Sontakke 1962, xx). 21 The proximity of 
this language to Vedic is so remarkable that whole Avestan passages can be transformed 
into Vedic simply by making these minor phonetic correspondances (e.g., Sanskrit s = 
Arestan ft). 22 With such close economic, religious, and linguistic overlap, the two texts 
are considered to be very similar literary offshoots of a not-too-distant, proto-Indo-Ira- 
nian period. This is significant because if Zarathustra’s date can be determined with 
any degree of accuracy, it might serve as an anchor to secure the date of the compilation 
of the Veda in close chronological proximity, since, as noted earlier, the oldest part of 
the Avesta is attributed to Zarathustra. 

Zarathustra’s date, unfortunately, is far from certain. Previously, a sixth century b.c.e. 
date based on Greek sources was accepted by many scholars, but this has now been 
completely discarded by present-day specialists in the field. Two dates for the prophet 
were current in Greek sources: 5000 years before the Trojan War, that is, 6000 b.c.e., 
and 258 years before Alexander—the sixth century b.c.e. date. This more modest date 
has been shown to be completely fictitious, but it initially gained wide acceptance be¬ 
cause it seems to have been adopted by the later Zarathustran scholastics themselves in 
the Pahlavi books (Boyce 1992, 20). Since there is no specific historical information in 
the tradition itself, once this chronological anchor had been unfastened, dating the Avesta 
can only be based on the same conjectural suppositions that characterize attempts to 
date the Veda. 

The lower date for the Avesta, as with the Veda, is comparatively easy to establish. 

132 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Although there is much that is very arbitrary in the assignment of figures to genealo¬ 
gies, Boyce (1992, 29) claims a lower date of no later than 1100 b.c.e. for the Gathas 
on the basis of the lineages, and so on, recorded in the texts. 23 As for the higher date, 
Boyce has less to work with. Since, like the Rgveda, the Avesta is well acquainted with 
chariots, and since the earliest remains of a spoked-wheel chariot dated to before 1600 
B.C.E. have been found in the Sintashta Cemetery in the Inner Asian steppes (from 
where Boyce is assuming the Iranians entered Iran), she tentatively proposes an upper 
limit of 1500 b.c.e. for the Gathas (44). Gnoli (1980, 159), who is also supportive of 
an earlier date (end of the second, beginning of the first millennium b.c.e.) along many 
of the same lines as Boyce, points out that the oldest Avestan texts reflect a milieu that 
is certainly much different than that of the Medes and the Achaemenians. Significantly, 
the texts make no mention of urban centers, or even of geographic regions in the west 
of Iran. Such features all indicate a decidedly prehistoric period. When we consider 
that these tentative dates are bolstered by coordination with the generally accepted date 
for the composition of the Vedic hymns (Boyce 1992, 29) and the movements of the 
Indo-Aryans (Boyce 1992, 41)—both of which, from the perspective of this study, are 
under reconsideration—it becomes clear that the Avestan evidence, rather than helping 
to secure the Vedas temporally, simply becomes an extension of the same chronological 

Geographically, the Avesta has little to offer the quest for the homeland of the Indo- 
Aryans speakers—with one very important exception. In sharp contradistinction to the 
lack of any clear reference in the Vedic tradition to an outside origin, the Avesta does 
preserve explicit mention of an airiiansm vaejo, the legendary homeland of the Aryans 
and of Zarathustra himself. 24 The descriptions of this place, despite the fact that “it is 
revealed that Ohrmazd made [it] to be better than the other places and regions,” speak 
of severe climatic conditions (Humbach 1991, 35). 25 Gnoli (1980, 130) situates the 
airiiansm vaejo in the Hindu Kush because all the identifiable geographic references in 
the Avesta are of eastern Iran, south central Asia and, Afghanistan, with an eastern 
boundary formed by the Indus. There is no mention of any place north of the Sir Darya 
(the ancient Jaxartes), 26 nor of any western Iranian place (Boyce 1992, 3). 

Skjaervo (1995) finds the identity of the airiianom vaejo to be insoluble, but finds it 
possible that it might have changed as the tribes moved around. He reiterates the noto¬ 
rious difficulties involved in using the Avesta as a source for the early history of the 
Iranians and cautions against circularity, since, if “we use archaeology and history to 
date the Avesta, we cannot turn around and use the Avesta to date the same archaeo¬ 
logical and historical events, and vice versa” (158). While skeptical of attempts to pin¬ 
point the exact locus of their composition, he concurs that the internal evidence of the 
Avestan texts makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were composed in 
northeastern Iran and traveled from there to the south and southwest (165-166). Witzel 
(forthcoming, b) undertakes a thorough analysis of all the philological, linguistic, envi¬ 
ronmental, and climactic pointers in the texts and feels the Avestan homeland points to 
the central Afghan highlands including, perhaps, areas north and south of the Hindukush. 

So the geographical boundaries of the Avesta are approximately coterminus with the 
western part of the area under consideration by Indigenous Aryanists (and the favored 
homeland of nineteenth-century scholars). Of course, all this could be a reference to a 
secondary Indo-Iranian homeland, and not the primary Indo-European one, but, like 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 133 

the Veda, the Avesta preserves no clear memory of an overland trek from the Caspian 
Sea. However, the Hapta Hendu (Vedic Sapta Sindhu or Panjab) is known, as is the 
Harahvaiti (Vedic Sarasvatl), 27 which denotes an Iranian river. Boyce, in harmony with 
most Indo-Europeanists, believes that the oblique geographic indicators in the Avesta 
refer to the Inner Asian steppes, but, regrettably, there is little that is of real help in 
locating the homeland of the joint Indo-lranian speakers unless one is prepared to ap¬ 
ply the data to a homeland already prefigured on other grounds. 28 Nor is there any 
reason for Indigenous Aryanists to disagree that the Avestan airiiansm vaejo could have 
been Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush, as these scholars suggest. 

There are also identical names of rivers common to both Iran and India, such as the 
Iranian Harahvaiti and Haroyu, which correspond to the Indian Sarasvatl and Sarayu 
(Sanskrit 5 = Iranian h). In and of themselves, all that can be said of this data is that 
these names could have been either transferred by incoming Indo-Aryan tribes from 
Iranian rivers to Indian ones, as is generally assumed, or by outgoing Indo-lranian tribes 
from Indian rivers (although any transfer from Iran to India must have occurred before 
Iranian developed the h phoneme, since s can become h but never vice versa). Scholars 
have conventionally interpreted these transferals as evidence of the movement of the 
Indo-Aryans toward India from the Caspian Sea area via Iran. Burrow, (1973a) for ex¬ 
ample, considers that the Vedic name Sarasvatl belonged originally to the river in Iran 
that it refers to in the Avesta and was later imported into India by the incoming Indo- 
Aryans. Another set of Indo-lranian river terms river—Sanskrit ‘rasa’, Avestan ‘Ragha — 
has been identified with cognates in Russia, where ‘Rosa’ is a frequent river name, which 
to some is an indication of the steppe origins of the Indo-Aryans. A number of Baltic 
river names have the form ‘Indus’, ‘Indura’, ‘Indra’, and so on, which are explainable 
by comparison with Sanskrit indu ‘drop’ (Mallory 1975, 169). These hydromic etymolo¬ 
gies have been accepted as signs of Indo-Aryans (or Indo-Iranians or Iranians) moving 
across Asia toward their historic seats in India and/or Iran. 

Indigenous Aryanists maintain that they could all just as easily be signs of tribes 
emigrating from the Indian subcontinent and its environs toward Iran and the North¬ 
west. Even Max Muller (1875) considered that the “Zoroastrians were a colony from 
Northern India. ... A schism took place and [they] migrated westward to Arachosia 
and Persia. . . . They gave to the new cities and to the rivers along which they settled, 
the names of cities and rivers familiar to them, and reminding them of the localities 
which they had left” (248). More recently, Erdosy (1989) has also noted that “it would 
be just as plausible to assume that Saraswati was a Sanskrit term indigenous to India 
and was later imported by the speakers of Avestan into Iran. The fact that the Zend 
Avesta is aware of areas outside the Iranian plateau while the Rigveda is ignorant of 
anything west of the Indus basin would certainly support such an assertion” (42). Cer¬ 
tainly, the Indus Valley, which Indigenous Aryans, as we shall see in the next chapter, 
consider to have been Indo-Aryan, formed a trading and cultural zone with central Asia, 
Afghanistan, and Baluchistan in the third millennium b.c.e. The Avesta, then, simply 
deepens the mystery of Indo-Aryan origins. 

Lubotsky (forthcoming) has identified a number of words shared between the Indo- 
Aryan and Iranian branches that are not evidenced in any of the other Indo-European 
languages. Some of these are inherited from Indo-European, but others exhibit phono¬ 
logical or morphological features that make them conspicuous as loans. Lubotsky finds 

134 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

that the structure of these loans in Indo-Iranian is similar to the structure of the loans 
in the Rgveda found by Kuiper, suggesting that they were borrowed from the same lan¬ 
guage (or, at any rate, two dialects of the same language). In Lubotsky’s view, “in order 
to account for this fact, we are bound to assume that the language of the original popu¬ 
lation of the towns of Central Asia, where Indo-Iranians must have arrived in the sec¬ 
ond millennium bce, on the one hand, and the language spoken in the Punjab, the 
homeland of the Indo-Aryans, on the other, were intimately related” (4). Since there are 
some irregularities in the Iranian correspondances, Lubotsky further infers that the Indo- 
Aryans formed the vanguard of the Indo-Iranian collective heading southeast and were 
thus the first to come into contact with the tribes who spoke foreign languages. After 
adopting the loan words from these tribes, they passed them on to the Iranians, who 
adjusted the phonemes somewhat, thus producing these irregularities. 

As a side note, if the subtratum language of Central Asia and drat of the Punjab 
were the same, then the question arises as to why Iranian was not affected by at least 
some of the same non-Indo-European phonological and morphological features unique 
to Vedic and Sanskrit that have generally been assigned to the Punjab substratum, as 
was discussed in chapter 5. Also of interest is the fact that Lubotsky is surprised to find 
that many of the loans into Finno-Ugric are only attested in Sanskrit, and not Iranian— 
an observation that would doubtlessly be of use to Misra’s thesis as outlined here. 
Lubotsky holds that this could be because the Indo-Aryans were the vanguard of the 
Indo-Iranians, but one might wonder why die Iranians in the rearguard did not like¬ 
wise impart loans. 

Lubotsky (forthcoming) notes that the landscape of Indo-Iranians must have been 
quite similar to their original homeland since there are no new terms for plants or other 
items of the environment. There are loans for new animals such as the camel, as well 
as for irrigation, elaborate architecture (including permanent houses), clothing, and hair 
styles. There are few terms for agriculture, reinforcing the idea of their nomadic lifestyle, 
and there is a paucity of terms for military technology, which underscores Aryan mili¬ 
tary supremecy. All of this “is a strong confirmation of the traditional theory that the 
Indo-Iranians came from the North. . . . The Indo-Aryans formed the vanguard of the 
Indo-Iranian movement and first came in contact widr the original inhabitants of the Central 
Asian towns. Then, presumably under pressure of the Iranians, who were pushing from 
behind, the Indo-Aryans moved further south-east and south-west, whereas the Iranians 
remained in Central Asia and later spread to the Iranian plateau” (5). 

While this is a perfectly satisfactory interpretation of the data, these foreign terms in 
Indo-Iranian are subject to the same possibilities as the substratum elements discussed 
in chapter 5: How can one dismiss the possibility that it was the foreign terms that were 
entering into an Indo-Iranian speaking language group already situated in East Iran, 
Afghanistan, and the Punjab, rather than the opposite—the Indo-Iranian speakers im¬ 
migrating into the territory of a preexisting indigenous language group situated in the 
same area? A good number of the terms—‘bad,’ ‘smell,’ ‘head hair,’ ‘milk,’ ‘belly,’ ‘spit,’ 
‘tail,’ ‘heap,’ ‘penis,’ etc.—are surely items that exist in any language. If the Indo-Irani¬ 
ans borrowed such terms, it is not because they did not already possess equivalents in 
their own dialects. Terms often get replaced and new synonyms are added to a vocabu¬ 
lary as tribes interact with each other. As for the terms denoting new or unfamiliar items 
such as garments, the camel, or bricks, how can we eliminate the possibility that these 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 135 

were not simply exotic, desireable, or useful foreign items that entered a language area 
through trade or other means and that retained their foreign names? 

Moreover, as has already been discussed, what mechanisms can linguistics provide 
to determine whether such loans are due to substratum, superstratum, or adstratum? 
Lubotsky (forthcoming) himself notes that “I use the term substratum to refer to any 
donor language, without implying sociological differences in its status, so that ‘substra¬ 
tum’ may refer to an adstratum or even superstratum” (1). These are all issues that need 
to be resolved before determing that such terms reflect preexisting substratum languages 
that can be used to chart the movements of the Indo-Aryans. 

The Mitanni Treaties 

Another set of data crucial to the Indo-Aryan saga, and one of the few happy occasions 
when archaeology and linguistics coincide unambiguously, is the inscriptional evidence 
demonstrating die presence of Indo-Aryans throughout the Near East in the fourteenth 
century b.c.e. By the turn of the twentieth century, Indologists in the West had long ceased 
to contest the picture of an overland trek of the Indo-Aryans from a European or Caspian 
Sea homeland across the Asian steppes into India. It came as a great surprise to learn 
about these Indo-Aryans that had suddenly come to light as a result of Hugo Winckler’s 
excavations in Bogazkoy, Asia Minor, during die summer of 1907. These Indo-Aryans 
were not just misplaced wondering nomads who had happened to take a premature turn 
at the wrong steppe, but rulers of the Mitanni kingdom in north Mesopotamia and rulers 
of neighboring principalities as far as Syria and Palestine, How did they get to be there? 

The principal texts that have generated the most interest among scholars interested 
in this topic are the treaty between a Hittite king and a Mitanni king wherein the Vedic 
gods Indara (Skt. Indra), Mitras(il) (Skt. Mitra), Nasatia(nna) (Skt. Nasatya), and 
Hrumnass(il), (Skt. Varuna) are mentioned, and a treatise on horse training and upkeep 

The Mitanni kingdom. 

136 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

by a Mitannian called Kikkuli wherein technical terms related to horsemanship are in 
Indo-Aryan. (For a comprehensive discussion of the Bogazkoy texts, see Starke 1995.) 
The text suggests Indo-Aryan prominence in this field. Aryan traces also appear in Kassite 
documents from the Babylon dynasty, such as Surias (Skt. Surya) and the war god Mariettas 
(Skt. Marut, although this latter always occurs in the plural). In addition, over a hun¬ 
dred such names of local personalities have been produced by scholars. (See, for ex¬ 
ample, Dumont 1948, 56-63 and appendix.) The Indo-Aryan character of these is ac¬ 
cepted by most scholars. Moreover, they referred to kings and ruling elite spread out 
over an area that included Syria and Palestine. 29 Although these rulers were Indo-Aryan, 
the population was not, being mostly Hurrian. This suggests elite dominance of the 
Mitanni state and a large area of neighboring territories by an intruding, martial, Indo- 
Aryan class. 

Jacobi, more concerned with the temporal as opposed to the geographic significance 
of the findings, was delighted at the news. He and Tilak, as will be discussed in chap¬ 
ter 12, had utilized Vedic astronomical references to argue for a much older date for the 
Rgveda than Western scholars had ever considered before, but both attempts had been 
criticized by some of their peers. Urging restraint on the belligerent Tilak (who was 
unbowed by the negative responses to his astronomical theories, and “who wished to 
enter upon a campaign against all opponents”), Jacobi told him that “the discussion 
would have no definite result unless excavations in ancient sites in India should bring 
forth unmistakable evidence of the enormous antiquity of Indian civilization” (Jacobi 
1909, 722). Learning of the findings at Bogazkoy, Jacobi felt somewhat vindicated that 
at least the late date his colleagues were proposing for the Rgveda was now discredited, 
since the Mitannians, whom Jacobi assumed had come from India, were already wor¬ 
shiping the Vedic gods in “full perfection” in the fourteenth century b.c.e. Obviously, 
their worship must have been even earlier in India itself, so that he might consequently 
“perhaps think that [his] chronological argument will yet survive” (726). It has been 
suggested that some of the names go back to the seventeenth century b.c.e. (Dumont 
1948, 63) or earlier still (Akhtar 1978-79, 66). 

As might be expected, the treaties provoked considerable discussion for some time 
over whether the names and terms recorded in them were Indo-Iranian, Iranian, or 
Indo-Aryan. Paul Thieme’s study of 1960 concluded the matter to the satisfaction of 
most scholars by demonstrating that the names were specifically Indo-Aryan. 30 Four 
possibilities have been considered by scholars regarding how these Indo-Aryans ended 
up in the Near East. First, they might have been the complete Indo-Aryan group that, 
after its split with the Iranian members of the original Indo-Iranian collective, initially 
took over the Mitanni kingdom and then proceeded eastward to colonize the North¬ 
west of the subcontinent. This possibility is not presently considered by most scholars. 
Another alternative, to which most Western historians subscribe, is that these Aryans 
were a segment of the Indo-Aryans (after the split with the Iranians) somewhere in north 
Iran or central Asia who peeled off from the main group of Indo-Aryans who were 
migrating east toward India. Leaving the larger body, they sought their fortunes in the 
Near East, where, although successful, they eventually became subsumed by the local 
population. A third possibility is that they were a part of the unseparated body of Indo- 
Aryans who initially reached India but, sometime after arriving, bade farewell to their 
kinsmen, retraced their steps, and headed back east. 31 Sten Konow (1921, 37), who 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 137 

agreed with Jacobi’s proposal that the Vedic culture in India must have had a much 
higher antiquity than most scholars were willing to allow, argued for a version of this 
third possibility. He proposed that although the Indo-Aryans were immigrants to India, 
once they had established the Vedic culture on the subcontinent, some of them traveled 
back out of India and into Mesopotamia. This chain of events would require assigning 
the Rgveda a date considerably older than that of the Mitanni treaties. 

The fourth possibility, supported by Jacobi and Pargiter in the West, and often viewed 
as the least complicated one by Indigenous Aryanists, is that these Indo-Aryans could 
have been Vedic-speaking tribes from the Indian subcontinent who left their homeland 
in the Punjab for the Near East, bringing their favorite gods with them: “[The Mitanni 
evidence] can either mean that the Aryans were on their trek to India from some up¬ 
land in the north or the Indo-Aryan culture had already expanded from India as far as 
Asia Minor” (Vidyarthi 1970, 33); “Did the worshippers of Indra go from an earlier 
home in the Indus valley to Asia Minor, or was the process just the reverse of this?” 
(Majumdar 1951, 25). There is nothing in the Near Eastern documents themselves that 
militates against either the third or the fourth possibility. On the contrary, as will be 
discussed more thoroughly in chapter 10, archaeologists point out that there is not a 
single cultural element of central Asian, eastern European, or Caucasian origin in the 
archaeological culture of the Mitannian area (Brentjes 1981, 146). This is a significant 
obstacle to those proposing versions of the first or second possibilities. 

In contrast to this lacuna, Brentjes draws attention to the peacock element that recurs 
in Mitannian culture and art in various forms (to be eventually inherited by the Irani¬ 
ans), a motif that could well have come from India, the habitat of the peacock. Since 
this motif is definitely evidenced in the Near East from before 1600 b.c.e., and quite 
likely from before 2100 b.c.e., Brentjes (1981) argues that the Indo-Aryans must have 
been settled in the Near East and in contact with India from well before 1600 b.c.e . 32 
The corollary of this is that the Indo-Aryans “could not be part of the Andronovo cul¬ 
ture [a culture dated around 1650-1600 b.c.e. with which they are usually associated], 
but should have come to Iran centuries before, at the time when the Hittites came to 
Anatolia” (147). 

Satya Swarup Misra (1992) again presents some linguistic comments in support of 
this greater chronology. 33 He argues that many of the linguistic features in the Anatolian 
documents are much later than Vedic but identical to the forms found in Middle 
Indo-Aryan. 34 These were also noticed by Kenneth Norman (1985, 280). 35 Hodge 
(1981) also draws attention to satta ‘seven’, which is the Prakrit form of Sanskrit sata, 
and remarks that the inscriptions show a Prakritic form of Sanskrit a thousand years 
before such forms are known in India itself on inscriptions. These observations fit 
comfortably with the proposal that the Near Eastern kings could have left the Indian 
subcontinent after the early Vedic period, bringing post-Vedic, Indo-Aryan linguistic 
forms with them. The most drastic corollary of such a claim, as Jacobi noted, would 
be a major reevaluation of the dating of the Rgveda, which must have considerably 
predated the appearance of the Near Eastern texts in 1600 b.c.e. if these do, indeed, 
represent a diachronically later, as opposed to a synchronically contemporaneous, or 
dialectal, form of Indo-Aryan. 

There has been some controversy over the numeral aika ‘one’, which some linguists 
hold could be from Indo-Iranian which has the form aika (e.g. D’iakonov 1985, 158), 

138 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

rather than from Indo-Aryan. However, (the Iranian term for ‘one’ is aim, but it is quite 
possible that Indo-Iranian could have had two terms for ‘one’ since eva survived in 
Sanskrit as ‘alone’) suggesting that this term could indeed be Indo-Aryan. 36 Misra (1992), 
and others we can recall, hold that the loanwords in Finno-Ugric were Indo-Aryan, which 
if correct would indicate that the Indo-Iranians had split into Iranians and Indo-Aryans 
long before the Mitanni treatise. However, Norman (1985, 280), in contrast to Misra, 
accommodates the possible Middle Indo-Aryan linguistic features in the treatise with 
the commonly held opinion regarding Indo-Aryan origins by proposing that Middle 
Indo-Aryan dialectal variations were already in existence within the Indo-Aryan com¬ 
munity as they were en route to India. Of relevance here is that scholars (e.g. Elizarenkova 
1989) have noted certain Middle Indo-Aryan forms present in Vedic but absent in San¬ 
skrit, which lends support to this possibility of Middle Indo-Aryan forms being extant 
as optional or dialectal forms during the Vedic period itself. Accordingly, since Misra’s 
observations can be interpreted as indicating that these MIA forms were already extant 
in the Indo-Aryan language on its way to India, they do not prove a greater antiquity of 
the Veda. But Misra’s claim remains a possibility nonetheless. In fact, all of the various 
arguments presented by Indigenous Aryanists so far reject the 1200 b.c.e. date com¬ 
monly assigned to the Rgveda. This is a most crucial issue, and one to which I will turn 
in chapter 12. 


In conclusion, then, the recurrent theme of this work has been to show how different 
perspectives and assumptions result in different interpretations of the evidence and 
produce different conclusions. From post-Proto-Indo-European to the historical period 
(as known from Greek sources), we find traces of Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, and/or 
Iranian speakers spread out over a vast area stretching from North India across the 
Middle East, central Asia, the Caucasus, and up to the Caspian Sea. Indigenous Aryanists 
believe nothing in any of this evidence can deny the possibility that the Indo-Aryan and 
Iranian tribes might have been emigrating from a northwest South Asian/Afghanistan 
homeland toward the Northwest as opposed to immigrating from the Northwest to the 

As a side note, one reference in particular is repeatedly produced from the Puranas 
as evidence of a large emigration from Gandhara, Afghanistan, to the northern regions. 
The narrative is situated in the time of Mandhatr, who drove the Druhyu king Angara 
out of the Punjab. Pargiter ([1922] 1979) notes that the next Druhya king, Gandhara, 
retired to the Northwest and gave his name to the Gandhara country (which survives to 
the present day in the name Kandahar in Afghanistan). The last king in the Druhyu 
lineage is Pracetas, whose hundred sons take shelter in the regions north of Afghani¬ 
stan ‘udicim dis'am asritah’and become mlecchas. 77 The Puranas make no further refer¬ 
ence to the Druhyu dynasty after this. 38 The more enthusiastic see this as “evidence of 
the migration of Indo-Europeans from India to Europe via Central Asia” (Talageri 1993, 


Most scholars, of course, will respond to such a claim by pointing out that the Puranas 
are generally considered to have been written much later than the terminus post quern 

Linguistic Evidence from outside of India 139 

date for the Indo-European dispersal. This dispersal must have occurred before the earliest 
recordable evidence for distinct, already separated IE languages, such as the Hittite and 
Mitanni documents, which are datable to the first half of the second millennium b.c.e. 
Scholars do acknowledge that much material in the Puranas does go back to the Vedic 
age—indeed, Rocher, who posits an ur-Purana, declines to even attempt to date them— 
and although the Druhyus are certainly mentioned in the Rgveda as one of the tribes 
fighting in the dasarajna war, scholars are hardly likely to assign an earlier date to some 
of the contents of the Puranas than the date they have assigned to the Rgveda of 1500— 
1200 b.c.e. Not surprisingly, the Indigenous Aryan school disagrees completely. For 
them, the assignment of such dates is rather arbitrary, and most are open to the possi¬ 
bility of a Veda as old as the third, or even fourth, millennium b.c.e. coexisting with 
strands from the contents of the material recorded in the Puranas. 

Be all that as it may, it certainly cannot be stated that all historical movements con¬ 
nected with the Northwest of the subcontinent have been from west to east, as some 
scholars imply when comparing the Indo-Aryan migrations with those known to his¬ 
tory such as the Greeks, Kusanas, Sakas, Moghuls, and others. Scholars of the nine¬ 
teenth century protested against the opposite tendency of their time, which was consid¬ 
ering people’s movements to have always been from east to west—Michelet’s ex Oriente 
lux. In addition to the earlier reference from the Puranas, Indian scholars have often 
pointed out that, in later times, the Gypsies emigrated from India to the West, as did 
Indian Buddhists to the Northwest, influencing significant areas of central Asia (and, 
of course, China and the East). Hock (1993, 82) draws attention to other Indo-Aryan 
groups from the subcontinent who have followed a northern trajectory: Gandhari or 
Niya Prakrit in early medieval Khotan and farther east; modern Dumaki in northwest¬ 
ern South Asia; and the Parya who came to modern Uzbekistan via Afghanistan. Ear¬ 
lier still, Indus seals found their way to Bahrain, Mesopotamia, and central Asia (al¬ 
though this is likely to have been through trade rather than emigration). Of course, the 
historic situation need have nothing to do with the protohistoric one, but the point 
sometimes made by Indigenous Aryanists, of course, is that South Asians have not been 
reluctant to emigrate to the Northwest in the modern, historic, and protohistoric peri¬ 
ods (to which even the modern-day South Asian diaspora attests), so, by comparison, 
there is no a priori reason to suppose that this could not have happened in prehistory. 

But such suppositions have little to do with serious arguments. The ultimate point, 
from the perspective of the present discussion, is not that the evidence in this chapter 
in any way suggests a South Asian homeland. The point is that it merely cannot ex¬ 
clude it as one possibility among a number of others: there is little in the matter of 
loanwords outside the Indian subcontinent that might convincingly persuade Indigenous 
Aryanists to change their view. Much of the evidence is malleable and has been recon¬ 
figured by scholars with different perspectives and presuppositions such as Misra. Here, 
too, compelling proof of Indo-Aryan origins eludes us. 


The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 

Since the principle that cognate languages stem from some kind of a protoform has yet 
to be refuted, as has the postulate that protolanguages must have been spoken in some 
kind of a reasonably delimited geographic area, there seem to be only three (or four) 
options that could account for the connection of the Indo-European languages as a fam¬ 
ily. Either the Indo-Aryan languages came into India from outside or, if it is to be claimed 
that the Indo-Aryan languages are indigenous to India, the corollary must be that the 
other Indo-European languages left from India to their historically known destinations. 
The third alternative is that there was a very large surface area stretching from the 
Northwest of the subcontinent to the Caspian Sea wherein related, but not necessarily 
homogeneous, Indo-European languages were spoken. Trubetzkoy (1939) offered a fourth 
proposal, that Indo-European was a language created by the creolization of several dif¬ 
ferent languages in contact. 1 

The third proposal is attractive in a “politically correct” sort of way in that it by¬ 
passes the need for subscribing to either an immigration into or an emigration out from 
India; indeed, K. D. Sethna (1992, 75) has settled on this very solution, as has Kenoyer 
(1997). However, linguists are likely to object that such an area is too vast to account for 
the morphological, lexical, and other shared features of the Indo-European languages, 
which would require a much more compact and limited geographic origin. Such a vast 
geographic area of origin for a language family has never been attested in linguistics— 
the Romance languages, as a point of comparison, originated in a limited area around 
Rome, although they spread all over southern Europe. Unfortunately, the minute one 
tries to further narrow this vast Indo-European-speaking area, one enters the quagmire 
of speculation and disagreement that has been characteristic of the Indo-European home¬ 
land quest since its inception. What Western scholars have not been aware of until very 


The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 141 

recently is that some Indian scholars have utilized the same linguistic evidence used in 
debates in Western academic circles to argue that even India cannot be excluded a priori 
from being a possible homeland candidate. 

This does not mean all Indigenous Aryanists believe that India was factually the 
homeland of all the Indo-Europeans. Of course there are certainly those who, perceiv¬ 
ing the fallacies in many of the theories being promoted by their Western colleagues, 
nonetheless attempt to utilize similar methods and logic to promote India as a home¬ 
land. Perhaps this is understandable after being subjected to two centuries of unbridled 
European intellectual hegemony on the Indo-European homeland problem. But clearly 
an Indian homeland theory is as open to the same type of criticism that Indigenous 
Aryans have vented on other homeland theories. Most scholars simply reject the whole 
endeavor as irremediably inconclusive, at best, and “a farrago of linguistic speculations,” 
at worst. The more careful members of the Indigenous Aryan school, at least, simply 
recognize that all that can be factually determined with the evidence available at present 
is that “the Indo-Europeans were located in the lndus-Sarasvati valleys, Northern Iran, 
and Southern Russia” (Kak 1994, 192). 2 From this perspective, if the shared morpho¬ 
logical and other similarities mandate that the Indo-Europeans had to come from a more 
compact area, that is, from one side of this large Indo-European-speaking expanse, most 
Indigenous Aryanists see no reason that it has to be the western side: “We can as well 
carry on with the findings of linguistics on the basis that India was the original home” 
(Pusalker 1950, 115). In other words, by arguing that India could be the Indo-European 
homeland, the more cautious scholars among the Indigenous Aryanists are demonstrat¬ 
ing the inadequacy of the linguistic method in pinpointing any homeland at all, rather 
than seriously promoting India as such. 

Factually, however, the fact that so few scholars have really taken it upon themselves 
to engage the linguistic issues is the Achilles’ heel of the Indigenous Aryan school. The 
Indo-Aryan invasion theory was originally constructed on linguistic grounds, and it can 
be effectively and convincingly dismantled only by confronting its linguistic infrastruc¬ 
ture. Even Indian archaeologists who have been the most stalwart supporters of Aryan 
invasions or migrations defer to the linguistic evidence: 

It has been repeatedly denied that there was any Aryan movement into India. . . . [A]r- 
chaeology has not “proved” the intrusion of the Indo-Aryan languages into South Asia 
. . . [but] equally . . . absence of such “proof’ is not tantamount to refutation of the theory 
of linguistics. . . . [I]t appears as if archaeological data and methods are not appropriate 
tools with which we may study the problem. From historical linguistics we learn that speakers 
of the earliest/ancestral Indo-European languages originally lived in a common home¬ 
land in Eurasia and subsequently . . . dispersed . . . eastward into Iran and India. (Ratnagar 
1996a, 1; my italics) 

As we shall see in the following chapters, Soudr Asian archaeologists have indeed re¬ 
peatedly insisted that the archaeological record shows no sign of Indo-Aryan incursions 
and that, therefore, the Aryan invasion theory is at best a linguistic issue; and, at worst, 
it is simply a figment of nineteenth-century European imagination. As a point of com¬ 
parison, similar arguments were made in 1992 in a series of essays by a Western ar¬ 
chaeologist, Alexander Hausler (Lehmann 1993). Hausler found that the archaeological 
evidence in central Europe showed continuous linear development, with no marked 
external influences. This caused him to reject Gimbutas’s three-stage invasion hypoth- 

142 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

esis from the Russian steppes, as well as the whole notion of an Ursprache “proto¬ 
language.” However, as Lehmann curtly points out, “He has no proposal for the source 
of the Indo-European language or languages. . . .For Hausler. . .the notion of an 
Ursprache is obsolete. Yet on the basis of linguistic study we must assume that soci¬ 
eties maintained common languages that, like languages today, were open to change. 
. . .Accordingly we posit proto-languages” (285-286). Archaeologists, whether West¬ 
ern or Indian, cannot simply dismiss, or ignore, linguistic reality. 

Center of Origin Method 

As noted previously, the first serious attempt I have found that challenges the prevail¬ 
ing ideas regarding the Aryan invasions by utilizing linguistic, as opposed to philologi¬ 
cal, data was by Lachhmi Dhar in 1930. The then commonly accepted status quo, as 
mentioned in chapter 1, had been established by Robert Latham, an ethnologist, who 
was the first to challenge the idea of an Asian homeland. Latham had proposed that 
languages are analogous to biological species: the geographic center of origin of a spe¬ 
cies exhibits the greatest variety of features. The homeland of the Indo-Europeans there¬ 
fore must be found wherever the greater variety of language forms were evidenced, that 
is, in or near Europe. The Indo-Iranian languages, in contrast, being more homoge¬ 
neous, were more peripheral to the area of greatest variety and therefore must have been 
peripheral to the homeland. More recently, Dyen (1965) has articulated this principle 
on similar grounds: 

The strongest hypothesis regarding the homeland of peoples speaking languages belong¬ 
ing to the same language is one that assigns this homeland to the area in which the ge¬ 
netically most diverse members of the family are to be found. It is reasonable that the 
whole of a large number of groups of people is not likely to migrate as a collection of 
distinct groups. If then we find the most diverse collection of languages belonging to the 
same family in a particular area, there is a prima fade argument that the languages grew 
different in that area rather then elsewhere. (15) 

In other words, it is more probable that one or two groups moved out from a geographic 
maitrix that had become linguistically heterogeneous, than that many linguistically dis¬ 
tinct groups moved out from a linguistically homogeneous area. 

Although this line of reasoning is certainly more sophisticated than the proposals to 
simply situate the homeland in the exact geographic center of the whole Indo-European- 
language-speaking zone, various objections were raised, most notably that the existence 
of the Tocharian language in the eastern group disrupted its homogeneity somewhat. 
At the time of writing, there is still no consensus on proto-Bangani, which Zoller has 
claimed to be an Indo-European language in India itself that contains very archaic Proto- 
Indo-European features that would significantly demarcate it from Inclo-Aryan. In ad¬ 
dition, the center of gravity argument, which is no longer accepted by most linguists, 
ignores possibly more important factors that will be discussed later. 3 

In 1930, in response to Latham’s hypothesis, Lachhmi Dhar provided a different 
explanation for this greater linguistic diversification in the western Indo-European lan¬ 
guages of Europe. Dhar argued that the European side of the family, upon leaving its 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 143 

original homeland, which he situates in the Himalayas, had to impose itself on the 
indigenous, pre-Indo-European languages known to have existed in Europe (such as 
Basque, Etruscan, Iberian, and Pictish) and thereby absorbed more foreign linguistic 
elements. 4 This resulted in the greater linguistic variety perceivable in Europe. The Indo- 
Iranian languages, in contrast, developing organically from Proto-Indo-European, which 
was native to India, absorbed no such alien influences and thereby remained relatively 
homogeneous and conservative. Dhar’s position invokes a linguistic principle based on 
the conservation principle. This holds that the area of least linguistic change is indica¬ 
tive of a language’s point of origin, since that area has been the least affected by sub¬ 
strate interference. The very characteristics used by Western scholars to postulate a 
European homeland were used, by Dhar, as evidence that this homeland could certainly 
not have been in Europe, and the disqualification assigned to Indo-Iranian, he reconstrued 
as its qualification. Actually, Dhar’s line of argument has a history in Western debates 
in the Indo-European homeland, (e.g., Feist, 1932; Pissani, 1974). 

Dhar (1930) went on to argue that “ancient Sanskrit possesses the greatest num¬ 
ber of roots and words and the greatest variety of grammatical forms, belonging to 
the Aryan mother tongue, when compared with all the other Aryan languages in the 
world” (59). Here, Dhar is referring to the long-established position of his time: “The 
Sanscrit is the language which has retained the most primeval form and has adhered 
the most tenaciously to that parent ground. . . . [It] has preserved a great number of 
roots which have been lost in the other languages (Weber 1857, 6). Most particu¬ 
larly, Dhar singled out the accent as the specific feature of the Vedic language that is 
homogeneous with Proto-Indo-European, since “every student of comparative philol¬ 
ogy knows that the Vedic Sanskrit preserves most faithfully the accent of the Aryan 
mother-tongue, although, quite naturally, traces of the original Aryan accent are also 
noticeable in some other Aryan languages such as the Greek and Pre-Germanic lan¬ 
guages etc.” (45). Dhar wonders: 

How is it that as the speakers of the language traveled all their way from Europe to Asia and 
then finally settled in India, they were able to retain in India alone of all countries—their 
final destination which they must have reached after a course of several centuries—almost 
exactly the same accent on words which their European forefathers used to possess centu¬ 
ries before in their forest-home in Europe or their Asiatic fathers on the table-land of Asia 
away from India, but which their bretheren in different countries . . . could not preserve. . . . 
Nor can the Aryans be supposed to have traveled through an ethnic vacuum as they started 
their journey from Europe or outer-Asia and traveled across thousands of miles of land 
before they could reach India, and escaped the influence of alien speech habits on their 
language. . . . [on the contrary, it was] the Aryas in their journeyings in Europe and Asia 
outside India [who] could not avoid . . . [being] overwhelmingly swamped by foreign people. 

. . . thus the ethnic disturbances have disturbed the original Aryan [Indo-European] accent 
in Outer-Asia or Europe. . . . the continuity of the original Aryan accent in ancient India 
implies the unbroken geographical and ethnic continuity of the Aryan race from the most 
primitive times in India. . . . Thus the home of the primitive Aryan language can be located 
round the home of the Vedic speakers who possessed almost exactly the same word or 
sentence-accent as their Aryan [Indo-European] fathers did. (47—51 ) 5 

It is true that the Vedic accent “reflects most faithfully the original Indo-European ac¬ 
centual system” (Halle 1977, 210; see also Kiparsky, 1977), but, of course, Dhar’s rea- 

144 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

soning can be countered by arguing that Vedic retained the Indo-European accent be¬ 
cause it was a sacerdotal language, which artificially preserved forms that would other¬ 
wise have evolved in a normal spoken language; there may be other factors involved in 
the conservation of archaic features apart from absence of substratum. Nonetheless, Dhar 
made a serious effort to address the full range of linguistic data available to him, and 
some of his arguments were as well-reasoned as anything that was on offer by some of 
his Western colleagues of the day. 

Other Indian scholars have repeatedly raised the same objections with regard to other 
archaic features in Indo-Aryan: 

The Vedic Sanskrit has the largest number of vocables found in the Aryan languages. . . . 
if the pre-Vedic Aryan language was spoken in different parts of Europe and Asia where 
the Aryans had settled, . . . how is it that only a few vocables are left in the . . . speech of 
those parts, while the largest number of them is found in the distant places of ultimate 
settlement and racial admixture in India? On the contrary, this disparity can easily be 
explained if the pre-Vedic was the language of the homeland of the Aryans and the other 
Aryan languages came into existence as a result of the contact between migrating Aryans 
and non-Aryan elements outside India and Persia. (Majumdar 1977, 216) 

The same arguments recur almost verbatim in numerous publications (Luniya 1978, 
71; Pillai 1988, 78) and must have been widely circulating in India—perhaps because 
some nineteenth-century Western scholars who were partial to a Bactrian homeland 
had made the same case: “The nearer a language is to its primary centre, the less alter¬ 
ation we are likely to find in it. Now of all the Aryan dialects, Sanskrit and Zend may, 
on the whole, be considered to have changed the least” (Sayce 1880, 122). 

Although questionable, such arguments are interesting if only because the same logic 
has been used repeatedly regarding Lithuanian as well as, more recently, Anatolian. 
Both of these languages have also preserved very archaic Indo-European features, caus¬ 
ing them to be promoted as being situated in, or adjacent to, a postulated homeland. 
The archaisms in Lithuanian were first accounted for by Latham as being due to this 
language’s being spoken in the vicinity of the original homeland north of die Black Sea, 
where it was not subject to alien substratum influence. 6 More recendy, Kortlandt (1990), 
while promoting the eastern Ukraine as the best candidate for the original Indo-Euro¬ 
pean homeland, holds that the language of the Indo-Europeans who remained in this 
area after the migrations eventually evolved into Balto-Slavic. Accordingly, “the decep¬ 
tively archaic character of the Lithuanian language may be compared to the calm eye of 
a cyclone” (136-137). Along the same lines, as additional support for their Anatolian 
homeland, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov state that “proto-Anatolian moved a relatively small 
distance from the proto-Indo-European homeland. This explains the extreme archaism 
of the Anatolian languages” (1995, 790). Dhar, then, adopted a line of reasoning that 
is well used in such debates. 

It seems clear that linguists have presented many factors as being involved in the 
mechanics of language change, which vary according to time, place, and individual cases. 
Few, nowadays, will accept overly simplistic explanations such as that either variegation 
and innovation or homogeneity and archaicness automatically indicate autochthony. 
Conservatism has indeed been demonstrated as corresponding with indigenousness in 
a number of case studies (e.g., Ross 1991), and foreign substrata influences are cer¬ 
tainly principal causes of language change in nonindigenous languages on the periph- 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 1 45 

ery (e.g., Blust 1991). But it has also been well established that indigenous languages 
tend to innovate, while emigrating ones peripheral to the homeland are often conserva¬ 
tive. One must conclude, then, that standard formulas cannot be applied generically: 
linguistics has provided two acceptable models here that appear to conflict with each 

Whichever model one adopts, one is still left with the fact that the extent of conser¬ 
vatism or the degree of lexical and structural innovation evidenced in the various Indo- 
European languages will depend on the reconstruction of the original lexicon and 
morphology of the Proto-Indo-European language. Linguists disagree considerably in 
their reconstructions, and few would posit an original, monolithic Proto-Indo-European 
at all, since the so-called proto-language is a conventional term for a certain dialectal 
continuum (D’iakonov, 1988). Accordingly, the model from which to compare later Indo- 
European languages so as to determine their degree of transformation is not universally 
accepted. This leaves room for debate regarding whether Sanskrit is more or less con¬ 
servative or archaic vis-a-vis other Indo-European languages. 7 It has already been noted 
in chapter 4 that historically Sanskrit has always been considered the most conservative 
Indo-European language and that some linguists would still agree with this. However, 
there is a growing body of linguists, including Gamkrelidze and Ivanov themselves, who 
consider some of the features long held to be archaic in Sanskrit and Greek to be later 
innovations while the more simple morphology of German and Hittite more closely 
represents that of the original language. 

If one bears in mind the time in which he was writing, Dhar’s arguments are in¬ 
triguing because they challenge established assumptions and reconfigure the same data 
to reverse the direction of the Indo-European movements. More significantly, he shows 
considerable awareness of the linguistic theories of his day and argues in a manner just 
as reasonable, logical, and coherent as that articulated by many of his Western counter¬ 
parts sixty years ago. 8 This intensifies the crucial issue: To what extent can the direction 
of Indo-European speech movements be reversed to support the possibility of linguistic 
emigrations from India as opposed to immigrations into it? Can the linguistic data ac¬ 
commodate the possibility that the Indo-European language might actually have origi¬ 
nated in India and broken up into daughter dialects that, wfth the exception of Indo- 
Aryan, emigrated from the subcontinent in much the same fashion and order as linguists 
would have them leave from the Volga Valley, Anatolia, Central Europe, or any other 
proposed homeland? Can the position of the Indigenous Aryan school be supported by 
simply reversing the generally accepted direction of linguistic flow out of the subconti¬ 
nent rather than into it, at least in theory? 

Dialectal Subgroupings: Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s Model 

Hock (1999a) notes that “the ‘PIE-in-India’ hypothesis is not as easily refuted [as argu¬ 
ments claiming that Proto-Indo-European is Vedicl. ... Its cogency can be assessed only 
in terms of circumstantial arguments, especially arguments based on plausibility and 
simplicity” (12). There is, in other words, the issue of Occam’s razor. In Hock’s estima¬ 
tion (forthcoming), the consideration that Proto-Indo-European could have developed 
dialectal diversity within India, “while . . . not in itself improbable . . . has consequences 

146 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

which, to put it mildly, border on the improbable and certainly would violate basic 
principles of simplicity” There are corollaries to such a theoretical move. According to 
Hock. (1999a): 

What would have to be assumed is that the various Indo-European languages moved out 
of India in such a manner that they maintained their relative position to each other dur¬ 
ing and after the migration. However, given the bottle-neck nature of the route(s) out of 
India, it would be immensely difficult to do so. Rather, one would expect either sequen¬ 
tial movement of different groups, with loss of dialectal alignment, or merger and amal¬ 
gamation of groups with loss of dialectal distinctiveness. (16-17) 

Misra’s response (forthcoming) to this is that “simplicity is no argument. Migration 
is not supposed to occur in a planned manner. . . . On this basis India can not be 
excluded.” In other words, Occam’s razor may have no resemblance to reality. From 
this perspective, it is impossible to demonstrate why the trajectories of protohistoric 
languages need correspond to present-day notions of ease or simplicity, or why a sce¬ 
nario deemed less complicated on a theoretical diagrammatic linguistic map need repre¬ 
sent historical reality any better than a more complicated one. Diebold (1987), in re¬ 
sponse to Dyen’s principle noted earlier, articulated similar feelings: “Some languages 
. . . simply will not stay put, and the migratory routes they pursue may be little affected 
by such principles” (46). Occam’s razor is, however, the only tool that historians have 
at their disposal when faced with a body of data, irrespective of how accurate their inter¬ 
pretations factually are. Hock’s point is thar Proto-Indo-European must have contained 
dialectal variations prior to splitting up. He finds it very unlikely that the languages 
which shared dialectal isoglosses in a hypothetical Proto-Indo-European homeland in 
India would all emigrate and then resettle themselves with the same dialectal relation¬ 
ships they had previously, leaving only Indo-Aryan behind. It seems simpler to posit 
one migration into India. 

Koenraad Elst (1996) tries his hand in acnially offering a falsifiable model of how 
migrations from a South Asian homeland might have occurred from within the param¬ 
eters of the relevant dialectal relationships: 

We propose drat there is no necessary link between the fact that Sanskrit is not the oldest 
form of IE and the hypothesis that India is not the oldest habitat of IE. It is perfectly 
possible that a Kentum language which we now label as PIE was spoken in India, that 
some of its speakers emigrated and developed Kentum languages like Germanic and 
Tokharic, and that subsequently the PIE language in its Indian homeland developed and 
satemized into Sanskrit. (227) 9 

Elst raises the possibility of Proto-Indo-European evolving into Vedic in India itself, an 
evolution which involved, over time, the loss of certain archaic Proto-Indo-European 
traits. Meanwhile, other Indo-European languages left India at various stages, some of 
them preserving particular Proto-Indo-European linguistic features that were not pre¬ 
served in Vedic (such as the maintenance of velars where Vedic had developed palatals 
in Elst’s kentum-satem (nowadays denoted as centum/satsm) example, which will be dis¬ 
cussed later). 

Let us consider the Proto-Indo-European-in-India hypothesis as a purely theoretical 
linguistic exercise. I wish to stress again that this exercise becomes relevant to the field 
oflndo-European smdies not as a presentation of theories claiming India to be the actual 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 147 

Indo-European homeland, but as an experiment to determine whether India can defini¬ 
tively be excluded as a possible homeland. If it cannot, then this further problematizes 
the possibility of a homeland ever being established anywhere on linguistic grounds. If 
the linguistic evidence cannot even eliminate India as a candidate, then any attempt at 
archaeologically identifying the Indo-Europeans in an area supposedly preconfigured by 
linguistics becomes even further complicated. 

The Indo-European languages were initially divided on the basis of the velar-palatal 
distribution of cognate terms into a Western branch, called the centum group (Latin 
centum < PIE *kmtom ‘hundred’), 10 which had preserved the Proto-Indo-European velar 
phoneme -k and a satem (Avestan satom/Sanskrit satam < PIE *kmtom ‘hundred’) branch, 
which had developed a palatal phoneme -s for the same term. The centum group in¬ 
cluded Celtic, Greek, Italic, Germanic, and Anatolian, and the satem group, Balto-Slavic, 
Indo-Iranian, Albanian and Armenian. This neat east-west division, however, was short¬ 
lived. A centum Indo-European language called Tocharian was found as far east as Chinese 
Turkestan (Xinjiang). 11 Moreover, Melchert (1987) has argued that the Anatolian lan¬ 
guage Luvian is neither satam nor centum, thus questioning the heuristic value of the 
entire divide. In any event, Elst’s proposal that earlier tribes could have emigrated from 
India bearing the centum characteristics and, after the velars had evolved into palatals in 
the Indian Urheimat, later tribes could have followed them bearing the new satem forms 
(while the Indo-Aryans remained in the homeland), cannot actually be discounted as a 
possibility on these particular grounds. This scenario would receive some support if the 
recent report by Zoller of a centum language spoken in the North of India proves well- 
founded. 12 This language, called proto-Bangani, although largely assimilated by the sur¬ 
rounding dialects, has supposedly preserved some centum vocabulary, especially, and 
significantly, in die context of old stories. 

However, there are other more significant isoglosses that need to be addressed by 
an Indian or any other Urheimat, some of which cut across the centum-satem divide. 
Isoglosses are bundles of common linguistic features that crisscross over language ar¬ 
eas. If a significant number of isoglosses coincide, the area they demarcate can be con¬ 
sidered a specific dialect or, if the number is sufficiently high, a language. 13 Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov (1995) have presented a temporal and spatial model for the segmentation of 
Proto-Indo-European into the historically attested Indo-European dialects, which we can 
apply to the Indian Urheimat to see if it fits. 14 The model (which combines the Stamm- 
baum model and the wave theory model) 15 is based on isoglosses that bind, or separate, 
various Indo-European languages into groups that require geographical proximity, or 
segregation, at various stages of linear time. 16 Initially, in the Proto-Indo-European stage, 
all the languages are united temporally and geographically, that is, they exist at the same 
time and in more or less the same place, whenever and wherever they might be. 17 

According to the Gamkrelidze and Ivanov model, this protolanguage initially con¬ 
tains two major dialect groupings, which they call A and B. 18 Group A consists of 
Anatolian, Tocharian, and Italic-Celtic, group B, of Indo-Aryan, Greek, Armenian, Balto- 
Slavic, and Germanic. 19 Anatolian, which is held to have uniquely preserved some very 
archaic language features as 1 have discussed, is the first to break away from the home¬ 
land, leaving the rest of group A and group B together for a period during which they 
develop some common isoglosses not visible in Anatolian. 20 Many scholars hold that 
Tocharian was the next to break off (Ringe et al. 1998). After the initial departure of 

148 The Quesc for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s model for the segmentation of Proto-Indo-European (after 
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, 1994). 

Anatolian, and Tocharian group A my parts company with group B and eventually 
subdivides into the Celtic and Italic language groups that enter into protohistory. 

After being separated from group A, several isoglosses in group B require that Indo- 
Iranian, Greek, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic all coexisted in some degree of proximity. 21 
Subsequently this group also subdivides into Balto-Slavic-Germanic and Indo-Iranian- 
Greek-Armenian, 22 but in such a way that Indo-Iranian maintains a central position for 
a period. This centrality allows it to share isoglosses with Slavic, on the one hand, 23 
and Germanic, on the other, 24 even while remaining more closely affiliated with Greek 
and Armenian. Balto-Slavic-Germanic also goes its separate way in time, and the re¬ 
mainder of group B, having developed some common features among its members, also 
eventually breaks down into the individual Indo-lranian, Greek, and Armenian groups 
that ultimately manifest in the historical record. These morphological isoglosses sepa¬ 
rating the various groups are further reinforced by phonemic and lexical isoglosses, which 
are “unambiguous evidence for the historical reality of the dialect areas of Indo-Euro¬ 
pean” (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995, 364). 25 

While several Indo-Europeanists have found a variety of features in Ivanov and 
Gamkrelidze’s account that they disagree with to a greater or lesser extent (particularly 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 


in their location of the homeland, the migrational routes they propose therefrom, and 
their identification of specific loanwords), their basic outline of the isoglosses and group¬ 
ings joining the Indo-European dialects is more than adequate for the present purposes, 
which is to consider to what extent dialectal geography can delimit the homeland. There 
seems little in Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s model, in and of itself, that rules out a priori, 
an Indian homeland (or a variety of homelands, for that matter). Scholars such as Elst 
have argued that Proto-Indo-European could have developed the dialectal distinctions 
outlined earlier in South Asia itself. Anatolian could have peeled off and made its way 
to its historic location from the subcontinent. The rest of group A, Celtic, Tocharian, 
and Italic, could, in time, have also headed out for greener pastures. The remaining 
dialects could have continued to evolve their defining characteristics in India. The Indo- 
Iranian tribes, or speakers, could have been neighbors with the proto-Greek and Arme¬ 
nian speakers, on one side, and the proto-Balto-Slavic and Germanic speakers, on the 
other, resulting in whatever shared isoglosses need to be accounted for with these vari¬ 
ous groups. Satemization, for example, could have been an isogloss that partially spread 
throughout this area but without reaching Germanic on one side, or Greek on the other. 

In time, tire Balto-Slavic-Germanic speakers moved on, in turn, leaving the remaining 
three dialects—Greek, Armenian, and Indo-Iranian—to continue to interact linguistically, 
explaining the close similarities between them. Eventually, even Greek and Armenian 
departed for the Northwest, leaving Indo-lranian behind. The Iranians had the least dis¬ 
tance and were the last to move: any hypothetical eastern homeland could, perhaps, have 
included parts of northeastern Iran. 26 The out-of-India model as outlined by Elst is really 
just a co-option of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov s model but with an even more southeasterly 
point of origin. This scenario basically differs from the more common Caspian Sea home¬ 
land model by postulating a linear and sequential initial point of origin rather than one 
radiating out in a more circular fashion. Ultimately, there is no internal mechanism in the 
direction of language spread that can a priori discount such a model, even if it disregards 
Dyen’s principle that language family homelands are more likely to be located in the area 
where there is maximum contiguity between the cognate languages of the family (or, to 
put it differently, the area from where the minimum number of migrations are required to 
connect the distributions of drese cognate languages). 

Or course, many other issues remain to be dealt with. Migration routes need to be 
postulated whereby loanwords into the Indo-European languages from other language 
families can be accounted for; Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s whole case is heavily depen¬ 
dent on Semitic and Caucasian loans which they have identified in Indo-European. Their 
etymologizing and interpretations of the implications of these loans are, in turn, con¬ 
tested by their detractors who propose different homelands. Ultimately, since it is clear 
that our study group is interested only in the indigenousness of the Indo-Aryans, and 
not in the saga of the other Indo-European speakers, Indigenous Aryanists are not likely 
to contest any migration details proposed for the other languages unless they militate 
against a South Asian homeland. Thus, Elst is quite happy to note that, in Gamkrelidze 
and Ivanov’s model (1996), 

all the migrations required are the same as in the IUT [Indian Urheimat theory], which 

would equally bring the IE tribes to the East of the Caspian sea first, then let them move 

on from there. . . . From an IUT viewpoint, all this falls neatly into place. . . . [Italic, 

150 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic] entered Europe through Ukraine, north of the Black 

Sea, while Greek and Palaeo-Balkanic parted company with Armenian on the South coast 

of the Caspian Sea. (237-239) 

In fact, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s migration routes have received criticism from schol¬ 
ars on linguistic grounds (e.g., D’iakonov 1985). Every homeland theorist runs into 
problems with Occam’s razor at some point or another. But the point holds good: die 
phonemic, morphological, and lexical relationships between the various Indo-European 
languages, in and of themselves, are not sufficient as data to pinpoint the original home¬ 
land; the diachronic and synchronic relationship between the various dialects can be 
accounted for in a variety of ways and from a variety of homelands. 

Ultimately, apart from non-IE influences, such as loanwords, there is nothing in the 
languages themselves that can give any indication of how far the languages might have 
traveled to reach their historic destination. In the words of Latham (1862), who, in the 
mid-nineteenth century was attempting to challenge the then very entrenched idea that 
Asia was the homeland of the Aryans (the exact reverse of what the Indigenous Aryan 
school is doing today): “A mile is a mile and a league is a league from which ever end 
it is measured, and it is no further from the Danube to the Indus than it is from the 
Indus to the Danube” (612). Of course, it can be pointed out that Elst’s model appears 
clumsy, since “it is easier to accept that remotely related languages developed separately 
within the same region rather than that several unconnected waves of migration to that 
same region brought remotely related languages with them” (Pejros 1997, 152). Be that 
as it may, none of these arguments can be used convincingly to insist on an external 
origin for the Indo-Aryan languages. 

In my opinion, the most serious objection against a South Asian homeland from 
the perspective of the evidence being considered in this chapter is not the dialectal align¬ 
ment of the languages but the homogeneity of Indo-Aryan in the subcontinent. If Proto- 
Indo-European had developed dialectal isoglosses in India in the manner outlined by 
Elst why would all the different dialects have emigrated to eventually become distinct 
languages, leaving only one solitary language behind? Why did some of the dialectal 
variants germinating in our hypothetical Proto-Indo-European in South Asian not re¬ 
main to develop into other non-Indo-Aryan, Indo-European languages on the subcon¬ 
tinent itself? After all, Sanskrit developed into a variety of mutually incomprehensible, 
distinct languages in the historic period, such as Braj, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, 
and so on. So why would PIE not likewise have developed into other distinct Indo- 
European languages in addition to Sanskrit in the subcontinent itself in the protohistoric 
period? Why did they all emigrate? 

Of course, one could argue that there may have been other ancient South Asian Indo- 
European languages that suffered ‘language death’ because Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic) 
became a culturally elite language that subsumed them, but unless proto-Bangani be¬ 
comes accepted as a genuine non-Indo-Aryan, Indo-European language, there would 
need to be compelling evidence to consider such pleading (although Old Indo-Aryan 
did contain dialectal variants; see, for example, Emeneau 1966). Another argument is 
that there may have been less language variety on the western side of the Indo-Euro¬ 
pean family in the second millennium b.c.e. at a time contemporaneous with Vedic 
and that therefore Indo-Aryan might have been less conspicuously homogeneous in the 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 


Southeast. Part of this western heterogeneity, after all, is established on the basis of 
languages most of which are first attested well after Vedic at a time when the Indo- 
European South Asian languages had also developed some degree of heterogeneity; we 
have no texts or sources from Europe informing us of the degree of differentiation of 
the European Indo-European languages in 1500 b.c.e. Our oldest actual empirical evi¬ 
dence for the major families in Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s group A is the Italic group in 
the form of inscriptions that may date to the seventh cenmry b.c.e. well after the most 
conservative date assigned to the Rgveda. The Germanic group is not attested until the 
Runic inscriptions of the third century c.e.; Insular Celtic (in the form of Irish Ogam), 
in the fourth century c.e. (although there are Continental Celtic languages which are 
earlier, as well as some Gaulish names and inscriptions from prior to the common era; 
Slavic (in the form of Old Church Slavonic) from the ninth century c.e.; and Baltic (in 
the form of Old Prussian) from the fourteenth century c.e. In 1200 b.c.e. we only have 
solid evidence for the existence of Greek, Anatolian, Iranian, and Indie. However, de¬ 
spite the comparative lateness of evidence for most of the European languages, there are 
reconstructable linguistic grounds (e.g., Ringe ct al., 1998) to suggest that Anatolian 
was the first to separate from tire Indo-European collective, followed by Tocharian and 
then Italo-Celtic, which does indicate differentiation in the family before Indo-Iranian 
took its distinctive form. 

Nonetheless, it is relevant to note, in this regard, that although the Veda and older 
sections of the Avesta are so close linguistically, had these old texts not been preserved 
for posterity and linguists had only the modern Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages as 
data with which to plot language relationships, there is no certainty that a grouping of 
these modern languages into an Indo-Iranian subfamily would have been evident. Dyen 
et al.’s (1992) lexicostatistical analyses, which are based on an analysis of modern lan¬ 
guages only, show a failure to distinguish an Indo-Iranian group; the New Indo-Aryan 
languages in particular, demonstrate the same affinity with the European languages (Italic, 
Celtic, Germanic, and, especially Balto-Slavic) as with the Iranian ones. In other words, 
in the modern situation, there is no obvious homogeneity among the eastern languages— 
we just happen to have Vedic and Avestan texts informing us that there was such ho¬ 
mogeneity in the ancient period. 

Nichols’s Sogdiana Model 

In any event, a less hypothetical explanation for this eastern homogeneity, and one 
that may partly address Hock’s concern, noted above, has recently surfaced. Johanna 
Nichols presents an alternative model for the epicenter of the Indo-European linguis¬ 
tic spread that could possibly be reformatted to accommodate a South Asian home¬ 
land (with perhaps less effort than that involved in the co-option of Gamkrelidze and 
Ivanov’s model and more in accordance with Dyen’s principle). The model also ad¬ 
dresses the issues raised earlier concerning center and periphery. Nichols (1997) ar¬ 
gues for a homeland “well to the east of the Caspian Sea . . . somewhere in the vicin¬ 
ity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana” (123-1 37). Since this area overlaps the territory being 
considered here for the purpose of argument, namely, a Northwest Indian/Pakistan/ 
Afghanistan homeland, it merits particular attention. Nichols’s theory is partly predi- 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

cated on loanwords between Indo-European and other language families that were 
discussed in the previous chapter. 

Nichols holds that the principle that the area of greatest genetic diversity of a lan¬ 
guage family is indicative of its locus of origin is demonstrably false for the languages of 
central Asia. She cites Iranian, which spread over enormous stretches of Asia in ancient 
times, and Turkic, which likewise spread over major portions of Asia, as examples of 
languages whose greatest diversity occurred in refuge areas on the western periphery of 
their point of origin. Nichols then draws attention to Dyen’s definitions of a homeland 
as a continuous area, a migration as a linguistic movement out of this area that causes 
it to become noncontinuous (in other words, which separates itself from this area), and 
an expansion as a movement that enlarges this area. As noted previously, Dyen’s home¬ 
land-locating formula discourages migration and prioritizes contiguity. 

In Nichols’s Bactrian homeland, Proto-Indo-European expands out of its locus, even¬ 
tually forming two basic trajectories, appearing, on a language map, like two amoebic 
protuberances bulging out from a protoplasmic origin. The language range initially ra¬ 
diates westward, engulfing the whole area around the Aral Sea from the northern steppe 
to the Iranian plateau. Upon reaching the Caspian, one trajectory expands around the 
sea to the north and over the steppes of central Asia to the Black Sea, while the other 
flows around the southern perimeter and into Anatolia. 27 Here we have a model of a 
continuous distribution of Proto-Indo-European—which has been defined as being, in 
reality, a dialectal continuum—covering a massive range from where the later historic 
languages can emerge, without postulating any migrations whatsoever. By the third or 
second millennium b.c.e. we have the protoforms of Italic, Celtic, and perhaps Ger¬ 
manic in the environs of central Europe (and presumably Balto-Slavic as well), and the 
protoforms of Greek, Illyrian, Anatolian, and Armenian stretching from northwest 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 


Mesopotamia to the southern Balkans (Nichols 1997,134). Proto-Indo-Aryan was spread¬ 
ing into the subcontinent proper, while proto-Tocharian remained close to the original 
homeland in the Northeast. 

As this expansion was progressing into Europe, a new later wave of Indo-European 
language, Iranian, was moving behind the first language spread (Nichols does not indi¬ 
cate an exact time frame except to note that this spread was posterior to the first expan¬ 
sion, presumably some time in the second millennium b.c.e .). 28 Nichols also does not 
indicate the exact point of origin of Iranian, but one might assume that it was the evo- 
lute of Proto-Indo-European that emerged from more or less the same locus, since it 
follows the same trajectories taken by the preceding waves of Indo-European. 29 How¬ 
ever, sweeping across the steppes of central Asia, the Caucasus, and the deserts of north 
Iran, the Iranian dialects separated tire two preceding trajectories—which until that time 
had formed a continuum—into two noncontiguous areas (one in central Europe to the 
north of the Caspian Sea, the other in Anatolia to its south). Along the same lines, 
Iranian also separates Tocharian from the other languages (which would eventually 
become completely severed from other Indo-European languages by the incursion of 
Turkic into this area). In time, the two original trajectories coincided in the Balkans. 
The southern trajectory had formed a continuous chain of Dacian, Thracian, Illyrian, 
Greek, and Phrygian spreading from West Anatolia to the Danube plain (Nichols 1997, 
136). 30 From the northern trajectory, Italic spread to Italy from central Europe, and 
Celtic to its historic destination, followed in time by Germanic, which was followed in 
turn by Balto-Slavic. All of these languages spread by expansion—there are no migra¬ 
tions throughout this whole immense chronological and geographic sequence. 31 

The corollary of Nichols’s model is that it portrays the homogeneity of Indo-lranian 
and the heterogeneity of the western languages in a new light. The assumed variegation 
of the western languages is only due to the fact that the later Iranian language had spread 
and severed the contiguity of the northern and southern Indo-European trajectories (which 
had previously formed an unbroken continuity around the east coast of the Caspian), 
thereby making them appear noncontinuous while leaving behind Indo-lranian and a 
stranded Tocharian to the east. The variegation of western languages is actually due to 
their situation on the western periphery of the original locus, or homeland. This model 
might also address the issue of why Proto-Indo-European did not evolve into more dia¬ 
lects in the putative homeland: the later westward spread of Iranian obliterated all of 
the eastern parts of the protocontinuum except for Indo-Aryan to its east and the iso¬ 
lated Tocharian to the northeast. 32 

From the perspective of dialect geography, the question arises whether Nichols’s home¬ 
land model, if enlarged somewhat, or relocated a little toward the southeast, could be 
applied to the hypothetical Bactrian/Pakistan/Northwest Indian homeland. From this 
perspective, one would have to postulate a scenario along lines similar to the following: 
Proto-Indo-European could have evolved in west South Asia into a continuum of dia¬ 
lects that radiated westward in the protohistoric period, covering an unbroken area from 
the desert of Iran to the steppes of central Asia. In this continuum, Indo-lranian held 
a central position. More specifically, the evolving Proto-Indo-Aryan elements in Indo- 
lranian held a central position, with the evolving Proto-Iranian dialectal elements mani¬ 
festing on the western perimeters of the Indo-Aryan core as the part of the continuum 
nearest the locus of origin. 33 

154 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

This western periphery of Protolndolranian was flanked on its northern side by 
Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Celtic, Italic, Tokharian, and Anatolian. Anatolian may have 
peeled off earliest to resurface in its destination in the Near East, while Tocharian ex¬ 
panded farther to the northeast and off the western path of subsequent language spread, 
becoming a language isolate (or separate, in Dyen’s terms). 34 Italic and Celtic continued 
to expand as the vanguard of the northwest trajectory over the steppes. They formed a 
continuum and shared an isogloss with Germanic— tt > tst > ts > ss (Hock forthcom¬ 
ing)—which, in turn, was followed by, and shared isoglosses with, Balto-Slavic. 35 Balto- 
Slavic was immediately contiguous with the northwestern part of the Indo-Iranian dia¬ 
lects (which, as noted, were central to this whole Indo-European continuum), producing 
a further isogloss between these particular dialects (a merger of velars and labiovelars). 

On the southwestern side of tire core area, Armenian was immediately contiguous 
to Indo-Iranian and was in turn connected on its western periphery with Greek. 36 
Satemization was an isogloss drat spread through a core area of Indo-Iranian and its 
adjacent dialects on both sides—to the northwest and the southwest. On its southwest¬ 
erly side, it affected Armenian and, in diminishing degrees, the transition areas of 
Thracian, Pelasgian, and Phrygian 37 but without reaching Greek, which was farther south¬ 
west. The change also rippled through a transition area of Balto-Slavic, to the northwest 
of Indo-Iranian, but without reaching Germanic, which was farther northwest again. 38 
Another isogloss, that of the preterit augment, was shared by Indo-Iranian, Armenian, 
and Greek. 39 Dhar’s comments about Indo-Aryan conservatism and the influence of 
substratum on the languages of the western expansion of Indo-European are not in¬ 
compatible with this model. It seems that other significant isoglosses can also be ac¬ 
counted for in this system. 40 

This model seems less clumsy than Elst’s co-option of the Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 
model, which involves a kind of staggered exodus of several distinct groups and is sub¬ 
ject to Hock’s criticism noted earlier. In D’iakonov’s view (1990, 156), the Indo-Euro¬ 
pean language speakers never left their homeland, wherever it may have lain; rather, 
there was the constant spread of an increasing population to neighboring, peripheral 
territories. I will leave it to linguists more qualified than myself to fine-tune the details 
of Nichols’s model or point out its irreconcilable flaws, which can then be compared 
with the linguistic idiosyncracies that have been pointed out in all the other homeland 
models. 41 And, of course, there are Indo-Iranian loans in Finno-Ugric as well as in the 
Caucasian languages that need to be accounted for. Nichols does not directly address 
the issue of Indo-Iranian loans into Finno-Ugric, but one might assume that her model 
allows for these loans to have occurred when the Iranian languages swept over the steppes 
on the heels of the first wave of Indo-European languages. 


The immediate objections to Dhar’s, Elst’s, and Nichols’s linguistic theories are likely 
to come from archaeologists. Indeed, even prior to reading the formal publication of 
Nichols’s arguments, Mallory was moved to outline an archaeological response to the 
very idea of an eastern homeland. He claims that there is little evidence of urban-steppe 
interaction, which Nichols’s model would require, before about 2000 b.c.e., which is 

The Viability of a South Asian Homeland 155 

far too late for Indo-European dispersals. No obvious candidate in the archaeological 
record has been found that might correspond to a movement of peoples from Bactria 
(or the Northwest of the subcontinent) to the west in an appropriate time frame. Such 
objections, of course, are based on the assumption that language spread can be traced 
in the archaeological record. There has been a recent chorus of objections to this idea. 
Mallory himself notes in an earlier publication that “as the IE homeland problem in¬ 
volves a spatial definition of a prehistoric linguistic construct, the utility of any other 
discipline, such as archaeology, depends on whether a linguistic entity can be translated 
into something discernable in the archaeological record. In short, any solution not purely 
linguistic must involve some form of indirect inference whose own premises are usu¬ 
ally, if not invariably, far from demonstrated” (Mallory 1997, 94). 

Indeed, as will be discussed later, scholars have consistently pointed out that there 
are no archaeological traces of the movements and migrations of a number of ethnic 
groups, such as the Huns, or of the Helvetii, and one would never have known that 
such occurrences had ever taken place had they not been documented in historical records. 
Mallory (1989, 166) has also noted that there is no archaeological evidence that can be 
correlated with the introduction of Gaelic into Scotland; likewise with the movements 
of the Slavs into Greece and the Galatians into central Anatolia (Crossland 1992, 251). 

The argument that there is no archaeological evidence to substantiate any hypotheti¬ 
cal linguistic spread from the east to the west is especially unlikely to find much favor 
on the subcontinent. As we shall see in chapters 10 and 11, Indian archaeologists have 
long pointed out that there is no consistent archaeological culture that can be traced 
across central Asia to penetrate into the subcontinent that might be correlateable to the 
Indo-Aryans; they have long been informed by linguists that there need not be any ar¬ 
chaeological evidence of such movements, since language can spread without any change 
in the material culture. They are hardly likely to now accept that such archaeological 
invisibility applies only to immigration into the subcontinent but not to emigration out 
of it. Actually, no South Asian archaeologists that I know of have ever attempted to 
argue for an emigration—as I noted earlier, it is the details of the Indo-Aryans that are 
of concern, not those of the other language family members. While this may be some¬ 
what myopic and unsatisfactory from an Indo-Europeanist’s point of view, Indigenous 
Aryanists have a right to expect that, at least in theory, whatever arguments are brought 
forward by Western scholars as holding good for immigration in the archaeological record 
should equally be expected to hold good for any emigration, however hypothetical. Let 
us not forget that Indian scholars have every reason to suspect a history of Western bias 
in the handling of the Indo-European problem. I will be turning to the archaeological 
record in the next chapters. 

The point of all this is not to argue that Dhar’s arguments, or Elsts’s co-option of 
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, or Nichols’s enlarged model actually support or suggest a South 
Asian homeland. The point is merely to suggest that these types of linguistic data are 
unequipped to exclude such possibilities. The point is also to provide some sense of 
how those suspicious of the entire homeland-locating enterprise can approach the ma¬ 
terial with different presuppositions and perspectives, rearrange the same data, and 
assemble entirely different hypothetical version of proto-historic events. At this point, 
scholars will have to resort to Occam’s razor to judge between the various homeland 
claims—which scenario requires the least amount of special pleading in accounting for 

156 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

the whole range of data. As the two-centuries-old history of the Indo-European problem 
demonstrates, however, there is not likely to be more consensus in this regard among 
scholars in the present dian there has been in the past. Moreover, the judgment regard¬ 
ing which case requires more special pleading is likely to be viewed very differently by 
many Indian scholars than by some Western ones. 

The basic thrust of the previous chapters has been to show some of the problems 
that have arisen in the attempt to pinpoint the origins of die Indo-European—and of 
their offshoots, the Indo-Aryans—through linguistic methods. At this point I should 
note that relatively few Indo-Europeanists nowadays have an active interest in the mat¬ 
ter of the urheimat. For decades, scholars have realized that the difficulties with the lin¬ 
guistic evidence are considerable enough to make each and every conclusion based on 
it problematic; however, the issue remains of considerable concern to many scholars of 
South Asia. In the next three chapters, we will turn our attention to the archaeological 
evidence, bearing in mind that the Indo-Aryans are a linguistic and philological entity. 
Archaelolgists can only attempt to trace speakers of a language family when linguistics 
and philology have provided them with clear and unambiguous information about an 
identifiable material culture that can be associated with such speakers. 


The Indus Valley Civilization 

In the words of one of India’s leading nationalist historians: “There is one curious fact 
in regard to the beginnings of Indian history. For the Indus Valley culture, we have 
abundant archaeological data, but no written evidence. For the early Vedic culture we 
have abundant written evidence but no archaeological data” (Majumdar 1959, 6). The 
Indus Valley Civilization covers about a million square miles, yet there is no consensus 
regarding who its inhabitants were. The archaeological sites of the Indus Valley occupy 
much of the same geographic horizons known to the composers of the Vedic hymns. It 
seems understandable that many scholars might be tempted to fit the two together. 
Numerous books and articles have attempted to fit Vedic descriptions of culture, soci¬ 
ety, and religion into the ruins of the Indus Valley. Such endeavors, for the most part, 
take great interpretative liberties, and I will only touch upon a few of them here to give 
a sense of some of the issues involved, since some general comments on the Indus Val¬ 
ley are unavoidable, in any discussion of Indo-Aryan origins. It is essential for the In¬ 
digenous Aryan case that the Indus Valley Civilization be an Indo-Aryan one for obvi¬ 
ous reasons. The issue that needs to be addressed in this chapter, accordingly, is: Did 
the Indus civilization precede the Vedic one, did it follow the Vedic one, or were the 
two contemporaneous? 

Indra Stands Accused 

Up until the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization in 1922, images of virile, blond, 
northern tribes swooping across die mountain passes on chariots and overpowering the 
primitive and ill-equipped natives they found on their way were presented as the stan- 


158 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Area of the Indus Valley Civilization. 

dard version of the early history of the subcontinent. The 1920 edition of The Oxford 
Student’s History of India (reprinted 1933), for example, states that “as they advanced the 
Aryans [who were ‘tall, fair, long-nosed and handsome’] subdued, more or less com¬ 
pletely, the ‘aborigines’ [‘short, dark, snub-nosed and ugly’], whom they called Dasyus, 
and by other names” (Smith 1933, 25-26). Likewise, the Vedic India volume of the 
popular Story of the Nations series informs its readers that “the natives . . . belonged to 
a black, or at least a very dark race, and everything about them, from their color and flat 
noses, to their barbarous customs, such as eating raw or barely cooked meat, and their 
Shamanistic goblin-worship, was intensely repulsive to the handsome, gentler mannered 
and, to a certain degree, religiously refined and lofty-minded Aryas” (Ragozin 1895, 113). 

Then, in 1922, the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered. 1 Sir John Marshall 
(1931) describes the civilization of these pre-Aryan natives of India in his official ac¬ 
count of the archaeological excavations at Mohenjo-Daro carried out between 1922 and 


The Indus Valley Civilization 159 

Hitherto it has commonly been supposed that the pre-Aryan peoples of India were . . . 
black skinned, flat nosed barbarians. . . . Never for a moment was it imagined that five 
thousand years ago, before the Aryans were heard of, Panjab and Sind . . . were enjoying 
an advanced and singularly uniform civilization of their own . . . even superior to that of 
contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt. . . . there is nothing that we know of in prehis¬ 
toric Egypt or Mesopotamia or anywhere else in western Asia to compare with the well- 
built baths and commodious houses of the citizens of Mohenjo-dara. . . . nothing that we 
know of in other countries at this period bears any resemblance, in point of style, to the 
miniature faience models . . . which . . . are distinguished by a breadth of treatment and 
a feeling for line and plastic form that has rarely been surpassed in glyptic art. (v-vii) 

Edmund Leach (1990) comments wryly on the academic reaction to Marshall’s disclo¬ 

Common sense might suggest that here was a striking example of a refutable hypothesis 
that had in fact been refuted. Indo-European scholars should have scrapped all their 
historical reconstructions and started again from scratch. But that is not what happened. 
Vested interests and academic posts were involved. Almost without exception the schol¬ 
ars in question managed to persuade themselves that despite appearances, the theories of 
the philologists and the hard evidence of archaeology could be made to fit together. The 
trick was to think of the horse-riding Aryans as conquerors of the cities of the Indus 
civilization in the same way that the Spanish conquistadores were conquerors of the cities 
of Mexico and Pent. . . . The lowly Dasa of the Rig Veda, who had previously been thought 
of as primitive savages, were now reconstructed as members of a high civilization. (237) 

Scholars like Stuart Piggott and Sir Mortimer Wheeler are especially targeted as the 
quintessential creators of such images of incoming Aryan aggressors destroying this newly 
found civilization of the erstwhile lowly Dasa: “Tangible archaeological evidence of the 
Aryan conquest of India consists of nothing but the ruins of the cities they wrecked” 
(Piggott 1952, 285). Pivotal to such theories was the discovery of thirty-seven skeletons 
in various locations of Mohenjo-Daro—especially of a huddled group of half a dozen 
skeletons sprawled in one of the lanes in the city. Two of these skeletons had marks on 
their skulls suggestive of a blow from a sharp object. On the basis of these skeletons, 
Wheeler (1968) confidently stated that “the end of Mohenjo-daro . . . was marked by a 
massacre as [this] evidence quite unquestionably indicates” (83). 2 This evidence was 
then juxtaposed with so-called citadels found in several sites such as Mohenjo-Daro, 
Harappa, and Kalibangan, which Wheeler took to be fortified mounds—the pur of the 
Rgveda (78). With Indra, whose epithet in the Rgveda is purandara ‘fort-destroyer’, as 
his chief protagonist, Wheeler had a dramatic script that he could have marketed in 
Hollywood. “Indra stands accused” was his lighthearted, but later regretted, caricature 
of the principal culprit behind the demise of the great civilization (Wheeler 1953, 92). 3 

Scholars soon began to react against Wheeler’s version of events. In time, most scholars 
judged that “Indra stands completely exonerated” (Dales 1964, 42; See also Srivastava 
1984, 441). George Dales (1964) pointed out the obvious: “Where are the burned for¬ 
tresses, the arrowheads, weapons, pieces of armor, the smashed bodies of the invaders 
and defenders? Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there is 
not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as unconditional proof of an armed 
conquest and destruction on the scale of the Aryan invasion” (38). Not a single one of 
the thirty-seven skeletons was found within the area of the so-called citadel, which pre- 

160 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

sumably would have been the locus of die heaviest fighting in the siege of a city. Besides 
this, the celebrated group of skeletons were found to belong to a period posterior to the 
abandonment of the latest stage of the city (38). Moreover, Kenneth Kennedy (1994, 
248), who inspected thirty-four of the skeletons, found only one revealed a cranial le¬ 
sion that might have been inflicted by a weapon; the marks on the remaining skulls, 
apart from one that had a healed wound mark unconnected with the cause of death, 
were cracks and warps caused by erosion, not violent aggression. Kenoyer (1991b) sums 
up the situation: “Any military conquest that would have been effective over such a 
large area should have left some clear evidence in the archaeological record. . . . evi¬ 
dence for periods of sustained conflict and coercive militaristic hegemony is not found” 


Few archaeologists today refer to Aryan aggression in connection with the demise of 
die Indus Valley, although occasionally the old paradigm stirs again; as recently as in 
Possehl’s 1993 edition of Harappan Civilization F. R. Allchin (1993) still ponders, al¬ 
though more hesitantly than in 1968: “Would the attackers have been Aryan! . . . there 
is no inherent impossibility in such a thing” (389). For the most part, however, various 
alternative ecological or socioeconomic theories have been accepted regarding the gradual 
abandonment of the vast civilization. 4 Few scholars are ready to attempt a retrial of Indra 
and his Aryans. So what were our invading, or intruding, Aryans doing if they were not 
destroying the cities of the Indus Valley? A growing number of Indian archaeologists 
believe that the Indus Valley could have been an Indo-Aryan civilization or, at least, 
that the two cultures could have coexisted. A variety of evidence has been brought for¬ 
ward to support this possibility, some of which will be reviewed in the following pages. 

The Religion of the Indus Valley 

As a result of excavations at the site of Kalibangan on the banks of the dry Ghaggar 
River in North Rajasthan, a number of Indian archaeologists, including Migrationists 
such as as Parpola and Allchin, accepted that the findings there “are highly suggestive 
of an Indo-Iranian, if not more specifically Indo-Aryan, element in the culture of the 
period covered” (Allchin 1993, 388; see also Parpola 1988 149). Allchin proposes that 
intrusive Indo-Aryan groups had synthesized with indigenous Indus dwellers, resulting 
in these possible Indo-Aryan cultural traces that had been uncovered in this Indus site. 

These findings, which have been termed “fire altars” or “ritual hearths,” were found 
in both public and residential locations. In a nonresidential area of Kalibangan, a series 
of raised platforms was excavated, each of which was accessible by a flight of stairs. 
Atop one of these, a row of seven clay-lined pits was discovered, each one measuring 
seventy-five by fifty-five centimeters and containing traces of ash, charcoal, and the re¬ 
mains of a clay stele. The layout of the pits was such that the officiator would have been 
obligated to sit facing east (Lai 1984, 57). According to die excavators, this parallels the 
seven dhisnya hearths of the Vedic soma sacrifice where the priests sit to the west of the 
hearths facing east. Most significantly, a short distance away from these altars in 
Kalibangan were found a well and the remains of a few bath pavements on the same 
platform, which “clearly suggest that ceremonial bathing constituted a part of the ritual” 
(57). On another nearby platform were the remains not only of a fire altar and well but 

The Indus Valley Civilization 161 

also of a rectangular brick-lined pit containing bovine remains and antlers “evidently 
representing some kind of sacrifice” (57). The gates leading to the whole area where the 
platforms were situated were flanked by salients, and access could only be attained via 
steps, thus precluding the entrance of vehicular traffic. All this “may perhaps . . . appro¬ 
priately be termed a ‘Temple-complex’” (58). 

In another part of the town was found another structure built of mud bricks. On top 
of this was an impressive wall that enclosed a room containing four or five more of the 
same types of fire altars. No other building existed on this mound, nor was any of the 
usual occupational debris found, suggesting that “the lonely structure with the altars 
was used for ritual purposes” (Thapar 1975, 28). Domestic fire altars were also found 
in numerous residential houses in the “Lower Town.” In many of these houses a room 
seemed to have been set aside especially for the fire altar, which was renewed repeatedly 
as the working level went up (Lai 1984, 58). The chronology of this period was about 
2300 to 1750 b.c.e. The official report of this excavation has yet to be published, and, 
unfortunately, Thapar has since passed away. I should note that Thapar did believe in 
Aryan migrations (pesonal communication). 

The excavator of Lothal, S. R. Rao, found as many as six fire altars similar to the 
ones in Kalibangan in different blocks of the Lower Town. From their layout and con¬ 
struction, he denies that they could have been domestic ovens and that “it is obvious 
that they could not serve any other purpose than a ritualistic one” (Rao 1993, 175). s In 
one of these, a charred bovine mandible was found. Nearby another much larger altar, 
which Rao (1979) suggests was used for “community fire-worship,” a terra-cotta “ladle” 
was found that “must have been used for pouring clarified butter into the sacrificial 
fire” (176). Rao precludes possible suggestions that the Indo-Aryan presence was in the 
final stages of occupation of the town by stating that “it is not only in the final stages of 
Kalibangan but also in the early stages of Harappa culture at Lothal and Kalibangan 
that altars for fire-worship and animal sacrifice were built and made use of” (173). In 
addition to Kalibangan and Lothal, H. D. Sankalia (1974, 350) refers to a fire altar 
noticed by Casal at Amri, and S. R. Rao (1993, 173) refers to similar reports from Bisht 
at the Banawali site. Allchin and Allchin (1982) are prepared to accept that, what they 
prefer to call “ritual hearths,” occur in the beginning of the Harappan period, suggest¬ 
ing an Indo-Aryan presence in the “still flourishing Indus civilization” (303). 

Not everyone accepts Rao’s and Thapar’s identifications. Dhavalikar (1995) won¬ 
ders whether we are dealing with fire altars or with fire pits that could have been used 
for cooking or baking. He finds them very similar in size, plan, and shape to his exca¬ 
vations at Inamgaon in the Deccan. Indeed, he sees similarities between them and cooking 
pits used in Maharashtrian villages to this day. For Dhavalikar, the clay stele in the 
center of the pits, noted by the excavators, “bears a striking resemblance with the clay 
tavd . . . that is in use in Maharasthra . . . which was obviously for baking bread” (7). 
In this view, “since the Kalibangan ‘fire altars’ are identical in every respect with those 
in Inamgaon, their association with the religious beliefs of the people becomes doubt¬ 
ful” (7). One would also have to note that Lai’s identification of these altars as Vedic 
seems to be primarily influenced by the fact that there were seven of them, thereby 
paralleling the number of hearths in various Vedic sacrifices. However, while this is 
correct, these sacrifices do not just consist of these seven hearths but include a variety of 
other hearths as well, none of which were unearthed in Kalibangan. 


The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Much has been written on the religion of the Indus people; the implications of in¬ 
terpreting Indus artifacts as Vedic or non-Vedic are obvious. Rather than burden the 
reader with an overly detailed exposition of views on this matter, a brief glance at some 
of the creative interpretations inspired by the so-called Pasupati proto-Siva seal will give 
some sense of the series of assumptions that are often made in assigning meaning to 
innate archaeological objects. The seal consists of what appears to be an ithyphallic fig¬ 
ure on some kind of a seat in yogic posture with arms resting on knees and crowned 
with a horned headdress. The figure is surrounded by a number of animals, and there 
is an inscription above the figures. 

Sir John Marshall (1931) was the first to volunteer an identification. Taking the fig¬ 
ure to be “recognizable at once as a prototype of the historic Siva,” he assigned the 
name—Pasupati, ‘king of the beasts’—to the seal in view of the animals surrounding the 
figure. The animals are a tiger, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, and two deer. He believed 
that the figure had three faces, which is a feature sometimes ascribed to certain forms of 
Siva. Moreover the yogic posture suggested to Marshall the ascetic nature of this deity, 
while the horned headdress conjured up associations with Siva’s trident. Marshall was 
convinced that the Indus Civilization existed prior to the entry of the Indo-Aryans, and 
that Siva was a pre-Aryan, Dravidian god who was later co-opted into the Vedic pan¬ 
theon (54). Marshall’s identification was to influence all subsequent interpretations. 

The Indus ‘Proto-Siva’ seal. 

The Indus Valley Civilization 163 

Other scholars who also posit a Dravidian affiliation for the Indus Valley have inter¬ 
preted the seal differently. Hiltebeital (1978) developed a case for considering the horned 
figure to be Mahisa, the buffalo demon toe of the goddess. He located the goddess herself 
as represented in the form of a tigress—one of the animals surrounding the figure—an 
animal frequently depicted as the mount of the goddess. Sullivan (1 964) also favored a 
goddess identification, albeit on different grounds, and argued that the so-called erect 
phallus was really a girdle such as is found only on female figurines. Fairservis (1992) 
was prepared to go further and tried his hand at a Dravidian translation of the inscrip¬ 
tion. He held that the seal referred to “a paramount chief named Anil ... a primary 
chief of the four sodalities, each one represented by one of the animals” (200). Parpola 
(1994) feels that the “so-called ‘yoga’ posture may simply be an imitation of the Proto- 
Elamite way of representing seated bulls” (250). His Dravidian reading of the seal is 
“min-a dl ‘the man (or servant) of (the god represented by) rnin,’” which he considers in 
this case to mean fish (188). He finds the animal representations in the seal best re¬ 
semble those associated with Varuna, an entity associated with the aquatic themes that 
he finds prominent in the Indus religion. 

A number of other scholars have also taken this seal as a Vedic deity, but, unlike the 
authors, mentioned earlier, who understand Siva, Varuna, and the goddess as being 
pre-Aryan deities who were later amalgamated into the Vedic pantheon, this group believes 
that their Vedic identifications point to the Indo-Aryan identity of the Indus Valley 
Civilization. S. R. Rao (1991) reads the inscription as ra-ma-trida-osa, “conveying the 
sense of being ‘pleasant and shining (or burning) in three ways’. The three-headed deity 
who is burning or shining in three ways is none other than Agni conceived in his three 
forms” (288). The animals, for him, represent different clans that have accepted the 
supremacy of the fire god. M. V. N. Krishna Rao (1982), in contrast, believes Indra is 
represented by the figure. In terms of method, he finds reason to bypass the tiger, on 
the grounds that it is somewhat larger and more prominent than the other animals, as 
well as the two deer, on the grounds that they are seated below the main figure. He then 
takes the first phoneme of the Sanskrit terms for the remaining three animals and the 
first phoneme of the word ‘man’ nara (which he somehow feels deserves to be repre¬ 
sented twice) and construes the term makhanasana, an epithet of Indra. 

S. P. Singh (1988-89) also identifies the central figure as Rudra, who is the protoform 
of Siva in the Rgveda. However, his method is based on identifying the animals sur¬ 
rounding the figure with the Maruts, who are referred to as the sons of Rudra in hymn 
1.64. His grounds for this, in turn, are that this hymn describes the Maruts as bulls of 
heaven, eating up the forests like elephants, roaring like lions, beauteous as antelope, 
and angry as serpents. E. Richter-Ushanas (1997) considers the central figure to be the 
sage Rsyasrhga, ‘the sage with horns’, who officiated over the sacrifice of King Dasaratha 
in the Ramayana. He connects the animals with the four seasons and finds similar motifs 
on the Gundestrup cauldron discovered in Denmark (Taylor 1992; as a side note, Talageri 
[1993] and Rajaram and Frawley [1995] see this cauldron as persuasive evidence point¬ 
ing to India as the original home of the Indo-Europeans). Feuerstein, Kak, and Frawley 
are quite happy accepting Marshall’s identification of the seal except with an under¬ 
standing that Siva is an Indo-Aryan deity. The list goes on, but I trust that the point has 
been made and will spare the reader further expositions on proto-Siva, pre-Aryan ‘earth 
goddesses’, vedic ‘soma filters’, ‘lingams’, ‘yonis’, Vedic ‘vrajras’, and a host of other 

164 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Aryan, or non-Aryan, religious characteristics that have been reconstructed from other 
Indus artifacts. 

The relevance of finding items of an unambiguous Indo-Aryan nature on the Indian 
subcontinent dating back prior to the second millenium b.c.e. is obvious. One report 
of such an item that might have had an immediate bearing on the ethnic identity of the 
Indus Valley Civilization, as well as massive repercussions for academic interpretations 
of Indian protohistory and, indeed, the entire Indo-European question were it to be 
accurate, somehow appeared in the pages of the Journal of Indo-European Studies (Hicks 
and Anderson 1990). The authors claimed to have dated a life-sized copper-based head, 
dubbed ‘Vasis^ha’s head’, with tilak markings on the brow and handlebar mustache. 
The hair was styled in the manner described for the Vedic Vasisthas—coiled with a tuft 
to the right. MASCA-corrected c 14 testing produced a date centered around 3700 b.c.e. 
(give or take eight hundred years). 

Hicks and Anderson state that the head had been tested by advanced technique in 
carbon dating in Zurich by the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the Swiss Federal 
Institute of Technology, through the use of a cyclotron at the University of Califor¬ 
nia, as well as by means of a Davis (Pixie) ion probe and Van de Graaf linear accel¬ 
erator at Stanford University. The tests included spectographic analysis, X-ray dispersal 
analysis, and metallography. The authors stand firm by these results (personal com¬ 
munication). I should note that Hicks and Anderson are not involved in the polem¬ 
ics of the Indigenous Aryan school; they do not contest the migration of the Indo- 
Aryans into the subcontinent but feel that this find warrants backdating their arrival 
to about 4000 b.c.e. 

However, the origins of the head, which was “rescued from being melted down in 
1958” in Delhi, are dubious. The head has not generated much attention, even among 
the Indigenous Aryan school, primarily, perhaps, because it was not discovered in situ 
and therefore appeared outside of an archaeological context. Therefore, although the 
carbon 14 tests were determined from a small quantity of carbon deposits on the inside 
surface of the cast, one could argue that this particular image had been recast from an 
older copper item that had been melted down. This possibility is reinforced by the fact 
that the piece bore the inscription “Narayana,” which the authors believed had been 
incised at a later time. Had it been otherwise, such a discovery would have sent shock 
waves through departments of ancient Indian history worldwide (although even this 
probably would not have been decisive for some in terms of the Indo-Aryan identity of 
the Indus Valley, since it could always have been argued that the head represented a 
pre-Aryan figure whose markings and hairstyle were appropriated into Vedic and post- 
Vedic culture). 

Before moving on to other issues, it seems relevant to note a provocative new hy¬ 
pothesis suggested by Lamberg-Karlovsky (forthcoming), who draws attention to the as¬ 
tounding degree of cultural homogeneity in the vast area of the Indus Valley Civiliza¬ 
tion, juxtaposed with the lack of any evidence for a centralized political structure. Not 
only is there a uniformity of culture, but the physical layout of the community is repli¬ 
cated irrespective of whedrer it is the 5-acre site of Allahdino or the 150 acre site of 
Mohenjo-Daro. Lamberg-Karlovsky believes this “enigma” can be adequately explained 
by supposing that only an exceptional social organization such as the caste system can 
account for this. He finds a variety of archaeological evidence to support this. The resi- 

The Indus Valley Civilization 165 

dential units at Indus sites, for example, were much larger than other contemporaneous 
sites, suggesting a stronger sense of kin identities or groupings. He notes that competi¬ 
tion in a class-structured society results in a much wider variety of styles and methods of 
production, whereas in a caste system, much more uniformity is to be expected, as is 
evidenced by the artifacts unearthed in the Indus Valley sites. Caste organization would 
also explain the social stability of such a massive culture in the absence of a centralized 
state or chieftainship. Finally, the concern with purity in a caste system is amply evi¬ 
denced in the archaeological record by the unparalleled attention and concern given to 
the control of and access to water and sanitation; at Mohenjo Daro, there is an average 
of one well for every three houses. 

Lamberg-Karlovsky (forthcoming) notes that, “if valid, such a hypothesis would im¬ 
pose a radical rethinking of the current consensus of the allegedly Indo-European ori¬ 
gins of the organizational patterns characteristic of traditional Indian society” (1). For 
those convinced that the Indus Valley Civilization was pre-Aryan, accepting Lamberg- 
Karlovsky’s tentative hypothesis would indeed entail reconsidering the Indo-European 
origins of caste. For Indigenous Aryanists, needless to say, The discovery of an Indus 
Valley Civilization structured by caste would be yet another indication that this was an 
Indo-Aryan culture. 

The Sarasvati 

The quintessential domain of the Rgveda is the land of the Sapta Sindhu, or ‘Seven 
Rivers’, a land which, as we have seen, goes by this name even in Avestan sources (Hapta 
Hendu). The heartland of this area more or less corresponds to the present-day Punjab 
in India and Pakistan and surrounding areas. Among these seven rivers, the Sarasvati 
is praised as the best 6 and as distinct in majesty (R.V. vi.61. 13). Likened to a fortress 
of metal (R.V. vii. 95. 1), it presses forward like a chariot fighter going from the moun¬ 
tains all the way to the river (or ocean). 7 Its prestige is such that various rulers (R.V. 
viii.21.18) situated themselves on its banks, and it causes die five ‘peoples’ to pros¬ 
per. 8 Over sixty hymns referring to Sarasvati in the Rgveda, many of which are specifi¬ 
cally dedicated to it, 9 attest to its importance in the world of the Vedic poets. An invo¬ 
cation in R.V. 10.75.5, which lists the rivers in geographically correct order from east to 
west, situates Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the SutudrI (Sutlej). However, although 
the other rivers in the list are all still presently extant in the north of the Indian subcon¬ 
tinent, nothing is to be found of the mighty Sarasvati today except for an insignificant 
stream in the foothills of the Himalayas that preserves its name. 

Scholars initially attempted to account for this lacuna by suggesting either that the 
Indus River is the actual referent of these hymns 10 or that the verses allude to the memory 
of a river outside of India, or, along with Max Muller, that the present-day Sarasvati 
was once a much larger river. (See Keith and Macdonell [1912] 1967, ii, 434-436, for 
a summary of opinions in this regard.) Pious Hindus, anxious to reconcile the spiritual 
and physical importance accorded to the Sarasvati in the Vedic and Epic texts with its 
inexplicable absence in reality, have either suggested that it was primarily a celestial 
river (Sharma 1949, 53—62) or resolved the problem by concluding that it must join 
the Ganga and Yamuna at the TrivenI 11 by flowing there hidden underground as the 

166 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

supta nadl, or ‘Sleeping River’. (Murthy, (1980, 19.) Interestingly, their faith in the 
veracity of the traditional narrative has not been placed completely in vain. Archaeologi¬ 
cal researches in the Cholistan desert have uncovered the bed of a once-massive river- 
up to ten kilometers wide, (Misra 1989, 159)—situated between the Yamuna and the 
Sudej, exactly where the Rgveda places the SarasvatT. This river is presently known as 
the Hakra in Pakistan, and the Ghaggar in India. The drama of this discovery was cap¬ 
tured in the title of an article in Geographical Magazine: “Fabled Saraswati Flows Again.” 

The first person who attempted to correlate the textual descriptions of SarasvatT with 
empirical paleogeology was C. F. Oldham, in 1874. He surmised that “the waters of the 
SarasvatT [are] continuous with the dry bed of a great river [Hakra], which, as local leg¬ 
ends assert, once flowed through the desert to the sea” (Oldham 1893, 54). Oldham 
was convinced that the dry riverbed had once been fed by the Sutlej River, before the 
latter changed its course westward. However, the person most responsible for drawing 
public attention to the SarasvatT River was Sir Aurel Stein. 12 At eighty years of age and 
almost blind, this archaeologist par excellence, adventurer, and veteran of some of the 
world’s most inhospitable climes undertook an expedition in 1940-41 along the banks 
of the SarasvatT/Ghaggar/Hakra River in the Bikaner area, Rajasthan, and the Bahawalpur 
area, present-day Pakistan. 13 

Sir Aurel was fascinated by the traditional belief that the Ghaggar or Hakra riverbed 
was none other than the SarasvatT of Vedic and Epic lore and that, although long since 
abandoned for most of its course, the bed once corresponded to a mighty river that 
flowed down to the ocean. Since the Vedic world seemed to orient itself around the 
banks of the SarasvatT, Stein felt that his expedition would be of relevance in the “still 
obscure question as to where those earliest records of Indian thought were composed” 
(Gupta 1989, 9). While he was successful in geographically locating this nucleus of the 
Vedic world, he was forced to conclude that in terms of chronological value “it would 
seem hazardous at present to use the archaeological observations concerning the an¬ 
cient river course for any attempt to date die references made to the SarasvatT in early 
Vedic Texts” (94). It is precisely such temporal possibilities of the riverbed that are of 
special relevance in the question of whether the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civili¬ 
zation and the Vedic-speaking Aryans might have been one and the same. 

In addition to locating and mapping a number of Harappan and post-Harappan sites 
along the banks of the SarasvatT (some of which he excavated with a few exploratory 
trenches), Stein, like Oldham before him, also concluded that the main reason for the 
demise of the river was that the waters of its main tributary, die Sudej, had been de¬ 
toured, thus depriving it of the bulk of its water flow. Satellite imagery has confirmed 
his observation. The present Sutlej River, rising in the Himalayas, heads in a southeast¬ 
erly direction directly toward the old bed of the Ghaggar. In the vicinity of modern-day 
Ropar, about a hundred kilometers from where it would have coincided with the Ghaggar 
bed had it continued in a straight line, it suddenly takes a sharp right-angle turn to flow 
away from the Ghaggar in a westerly direction, where, after about 150 kilometers, it is 
joined by the Beas. These two rivers then merge and proceed in a southwesterly course 
until they join the Indus and then on to the Rann of Kutch. 

The satellite imagery revealed the following data: (1) The sudden westward turn of 
the Sutlej is suggestive of its diversion in the past for which no physical obstruction is 
evident. 14 (2) At the point where the Sutlej would have impacted the Ghaggar riverbed 

The Indus Valley Civilization 167 

had it not deviated, the latter suddenly widens. Since the bed of the Ghaggar upstream 
from this point is considerably narrower, this can only be explained if a major tributary 
was joining the Ghaggar at this place. (3) A major paleochannel can be clearly seen to 
connect the Sutlej from the point where it takes its sharp westward turn to the point on 
the Ghaggar where the old bed suddenly broadens. (4) Paleochannels from the Yamuna 
River show that it also once flowed into the Ghaggar and then subsequently changed its 
direction three times before assuming its present course. This deviation of the Yamuna 
also would have deprived the Ghaggar of a substantial supply of water (Pal et al. 1984, 
492-497). There is general agreement among scholars that all this demonstrates that “it 
can be stated with certainty that the present Ghaggar-Hakra is nothing but a remnant of 
the RgVedic Sarasvatl which was the lifeline of the Indus Civilization” (V. N. Misra 
1994, 511). 

In the course of a survey project limited to only a section of the Hakra/Ghaggar in 
the Cholistan desert in Bahawalpur state (representing three hundred miles of the Pa¬ 
kistan side of the Hakra part of the riverbed), Mughal (1993, 85) mapped out a total of 
414 archaeological sites on the bed. 15 This dwarfs the number of sites so far recorded 
along the entire stretch of the Indus River which number only about three dozen (Gupta 
1993b, 28). The centrality of the river, both archaeologically and culturally, has led a 
minority of Indian archaeologists to propose, and to begin to adopt, tire term Indus- 
Sarasvati Civilization in lieu of the labels Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization. 

The crucial issue in all this is the date when the Hakra/Ghaggar would have been a 
full-flowing river corresponding to its state in the Rgvedic hymns. This date is seen as 
powerful archaeological evidence that must be taken into consideration when dating 
the composition of the Rgveda. It also has a direct bearing on the relationship between 
the Indo-Aryan composers of the hymns and the Indus Valley Civilization. Mughal (1993) 
proposes the following outline: 

On the Pakistan side, archaeological evidence now overwhelmingly affirms that the Hakra 
was a perennial river through all its course in Bahawalpur during the fourth millennium 
. . . and early third millennium B.c. About the middle of the third millennium B.C., 
the water supply in the Northeastern portion of the Hakra [the Yamuna) was consider¬ 
ably diminished or cut off. But, abundant water in the lower (southwestern) part of this 
stream was still available, apparently through a channel from the Sutlej. . . . About the 
end of the second, or not later than the beginning of the first millennium B.c., the entire 
course of the Hakra seems to have dried up. (4) 

Mughal’s broad chronological periods are not specific enough to assist us in definitively 
situating the Vedic-speaking Aryans as inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization. It is 
significant, however, that about 80 percent of Mughal’s 414 archaeological sites along 
a three-hundred-mile section of the Hakra were datable to the fourth or third millen¬ 
nium B.C.E, suggesting that the river was in its prime during this period. 17 The dating 
range proposed by Pal et al. (1984) is no more specific: “The Ghaggar continued to be 
a living river during the pre-Harappan (c. 2500-2200 b.c.e.) and the Harappan times 
(c. 2200-1700 b.c.e.)” (496). A third, even wider, dating range (8,000 B.c.E.-l 800 b.c.e.) 
was proposed for the SarasvatT’s channels through which it discharged into the Rann of 
Kutch via the Luni River (see Ghose et al., 1979 for additional information on the 
SarasvatT’s previous drainage system and course shifting). Lai (1997, 9) considers the 
Sarasvatl to have been alive in Kalibangan in the third millennium b.c.e. and dried up 

168 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

at the turn of the millennium: “The SarasvatT dried up around 2000 bc. This clearly 
establishes that the Rigveda, which speaks of the SarasvatT as a mighty flowing river, 
has to be assigned to a period prior to 2000 bc. By how many centuries it cannot be 
said for certain” (Lai, forthcoming). The SarasvatT as known to the Rgveda must have 
well predated the end of the second millennium b.c.e., when the entire course of the 
Hakra had already dried up. A further terminus ante quern can be postulated by the 
fact that Painted Gray Ware (PGW) sites dated to around 1000 b.c.e. were found on 
the bed of the river, as opposed to on its banks, indicating that the river had already 
become dry well before this time (Gaur 1983, 133). 

Anything more than this—that is, whether the SarasvatT known to the composers of 
the hymns was the river in its full glory of the fourth millennium, the more diminished 
version of the third millennium, or a dwindling body of water sometime in the first half 
of the second millennium b.c.e.— cannot be stated categorically. Advocates of the Aryan 
invasion/migration theory can still claim that the Indo-Aryans could have arrived dur¬ 
ing or toward the end of the Indus civilization and then settled down on the banks of 
the river. However, the Vedic hymns preserve no reference to of the river drying up 
(although this is explicitly described in the Mahabharata; see 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1 — 
4; 9.34.81; 9.36.1-2). Even if the Aryans had come from outside the subcontinent, one 
would have to allow at least several centuries for them to settle down on the riverbank 
and completely forget their overland odyssey. 

What seems apparent is that the composers of the Rgveda were living on the SarasvatT’s 
banks when it was a mighty river, with no clear recollection of their having come from 
anywhere else recorded in the texts they left to posterity. However, even this claim is 
not without problems. Witzel (1999) notes a verse from one of the older hymns in the 
Rgveda, 3.33, where mention is made of the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas. 
According to the evidence outlined previously, the Sudej was the main tributary of the 
SarasvatT. Its deviation from the SarasvatT and subsequent joining with the Beas was 
the principal factor that caused the SarasvatT to be deprived of much of its water input 
and therefore go dry. This verse might suggest a memory of a hydronymic event that 
corresponds not with SarasvatT as a mighty river but with it as a diminished stream 
deprived of its principal source of water. Granted, this is a solitary reference and is dwarfed, 
numerically, by the frequent references to SarasvatT’s grandeur, but it cannot be brushed 
aside. If the references to SarasvatT as a mighty flowing river can be construed to suggest 
that the Indo-Aryans must have been coeval with the mature Harappan phase, then the 
same logic applied to this reference would suggest that the Indo-Aryans were coeval with 
a Late or Post-Harappan phase (which most “Migrationists" would be prepared to con¬ 
sider). According to Witzel this provides “a date ad quern for this part of the RV, once 
the relevant geological and geographical data have been confirmed, . . . and it speaks 
against the current revisionist fashion of assigning a pre-Harappan date to the RV” (37). 

Francfort (1992) of the French expedition which had been specifically studying irri¬ 
gation and die peopling of central Asia, has scant regard for the “mythico-religious tra¬ 
dition of Vedic origin, reinforced by the illusory existence of proto-historic settlements 
concentrated along the banks of an immense perennial river, the ancient SarasvatT” (90— 
91). In striking contrast to other dating attempts, as far as Francfort is concerned, “when 
the proto-historic peoples settled in this area no large perennial river had flowed there 
for a long time” (91). The Hakra/Ghaggar River, according to these researches, pre- 

The Indus Valley Civilization 169 

dated the entire pre- and proto-Harappan period. The Harappan sites considered by the 
scholars noted earlier to have been sustained by the Hakra/Ghaggar/Sarasvatl, were, 
according to the team, not actually situated on the banks of the riverbed, but were out¬ 
side of them, irrigated by small river channels. The team included a strong geoarchaeo- 
logical element that concluded that the actual large paleocourses of the river have been 
dry since the early Holocene period or even earlier (Francfort 1985, 260). Ironically, the 
findings of the French team have served to reinforce the “mythico-religious tradition of 
Vedic origins.” Rajaram’s reaction (1995) to the team’s much earlier date assigned to 
the perennial river is that “this can only mean that the great Sarasvatl that flowed ‘from 
the mountain to the sea’ must belong to a much earlier epoch, to a date well before 
3000 bce”(19). 

To sum up, Sarasvatl’s rediscovery, although arguably suggestive of considerable Vedic 
antiquity (which one would be hard-pressed to accommodate widrin the commonly 
accepted 1200 b.c.e. date for Vedic compilation), cannot be used to prove absolute 
synonymity of the Indus Valley residents and the Vedic Aryans. Nonetheless, the river’s 
remanifestation, albeit in the form of a paleoincarnation, has been significant in other 
ways. Archaeologist S. P. Gupta (1989) voices the value that such archaeological under¬ 
takings can have: “At last, we found true what was recorded in oral traditions” (x). For 
the geologist S. R. N. Murthy (1980), such findings are essential because “some authors 
believe that it [Sarasvatl] is a ‘myth’—an imaginary river. There can hardly be a damage 
equal to such interpretations due to sheer ignorance of scientific data specially which 
discredit the authenticity of the Veda” (191). For many, a primary significance of the 
exploration of an old, dry riverbed is that such undertakings have enhanced the episte¬ 
mological value of the Veda. At least in this case, the validity of sabda pramdna ‘verbal 
testimony’ (recorded in written texts) has been somewhat verified by pratyaksa pramdna 
‘empirical proof. 

The Horse 

If the Aryans cannot be identified in the archaeological record, can they at least be ex¬ 
cluded from it? More specifically, is the evidence from the principal archaeological cul¬ 
ture in the subcontinent, the Indus Valley, incompatible with the literary evidence on 
the Vedic culture? As a result of the massive amount of attention the Aryan problem 
has been generating in Indian academic, political, religious, and popular discourse, a 
leading Indian publishing house issued a booklet written by one of the principal oppo¬ 
nents of the Indigenous Aryan school. The author, R. S. Sharma (1 995), concludes his 
arguments with the two most common objections against those attempting to correlate 
the Indus Valley with the Vedic culture: “It is claimed that the Aryans created the 
Harappan culture. However, such a claim is baseless. ... It is significant that the Rg 
Vedic culture was pastoral and horse-centered, while the Harappan culture was neither 
horse-centered nor pastoral” (65). Likewise, Parpola (1994) states: “The view that an 
early form of Indo-Aryan was spoken by the Indus people continues to have its support¬ 
ers. It is therefore necessary to emphasize in conclusion one important reason why the 
Harappan people are unlikely to have been Indo-European- or Aryan speakers. This is 
the complete absence of the horse (Equus caballus)’’ (155). Since the time of Sir John 

1 70 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Marshall, the absence of this creature has been the mainstay of the belief that the speak¬ 
ers of the Vedic language must have succeeded the Harappan civilization: “In the lives 
of the Vedic-Aryans the horse plays an important part. ... To the people of Mohenjo- 
Daro and Harappa the horse seems to have been unknown” (Marshall 1931, 111). 

As we have seen the term asm ‘horse’ is a word with Indo-European credentials. In 
its various forms, it is mentioned 215 times in the Rgveda and is the subject of two 
complete hymns (Sharma 1995, 14). Macdonell and Keith ([1912] 1967) conclude from 
one Vedic verse (RV viii. 55,3). which mentions a gift of four hundred mares, that the 
animal could not have been rare in the Vedic world (I, 42). 18 There are over fifty per¬ 
sonalities with horse-connected names and thirty with chariot-connected names in the 
Vedic literature. The horse is clearly an animal highly valued in the Vedic world. It is 
perfectly reasonable to expect that if the Aryans were native to the Indus Valley their 
presence would be evidenced by remains of the horse there. Such evidence, or lack thereof, 
has become crucial to—and almost symbolic of—the whole Aryan controversy. The horse, 
as a result, is presently “the most sought after animal in Indian archaeology” (Sharma 

1974, 75). 

The report claiming the earliest date for the domesticated horse in India, ca. 4500 
b.c.e., comes from a find from Bagor, Rajasthan, at the base of the Aravalli Hills (Ghosh 
1989a, 4). 19 In Rana Ghundai, Baluchistan, excavated by E. J. Ross, equine teeth were 
reported from a pre-Harappan level (Guha and Chatterjee 1946, 315-316). 20 Interest¬ 
ingly, equine bones have been reported from Mahagara, near Allahabad, where six sample 
absolute carbon 14 tests have given dates ranging from 2265 b.c.e. to 1480 b.c.e. (Sharma 
et al. 1980, 220-221). 21 Even more significantly, horse bones from the Neolithic site 
Hallur in Karnataka (1 500-1300 b.c.e.) have also been identified by the archaeozoolo- 
gist K. R. Alut (1971, 123). 22 These findings of the domestic horse from Mahagara in 
the east, and Hallur in the south, are significant because they would seem inconsistent 
with the axiom that the Aryans introduced the domesticated horse into the Northwest 
of the subcontinent in the later part of the second millennium b.c.e. Due to the contro¬ 
versy generated by Alur’s report, a reexcavation of Hallur was undertaken to collect fresh 
samples of animal bones. Alut (1992) again insisted that specimens of Equus caballus 
Linn were definitely present in the collection. His response is worth quoting at length 
to give a sense of the controversy and significance surrounding this animal: 

When I wrote this report, I least expected that it might spark off a controversy and land 
me in the witness box before the Indian historians’ jury. ... I was apprised of the gravity 
of the situation when I began to get letters asking me for clarification of the situation 
against the prevalent belief that the horse is a non-indigenous species and was introduced 
into India only by the (invading) Aryans. . . . To make my position clear, I wrote in my 
article . . . that whatever may be the opinion expressed by archaeologists, it cannot either 
deny or alter the find of a scientific fact that the horse was present at Hallur before the 
(presumed) period of Aryan invasion. ... 1 have only declared the findings that horse 
bones were traced in the faunal collection from Hallur and am responsible to that extent 
only. (562, italics in original) 

In the Indus Valley and its environs, Sewell and Guha, as early as 1931, had re¬ 
ported the existence of the true horse, Equus caballus Linn from Mohenjo-Daro itself, 23 
and Bholanath (1963) reported the same from Harappa, Ropar, and Lothal. Even 
Mortimer Wheeler (1953) identified a horse figurine and accepted that “it is likely enough 

The Indus Valley Civilization 171 

that camel, horse and ass were in fact all a familiar feature of the Indus caravan” (92). 
Another early evidence of the horse in the Indus Valley was reported by Mackay, in 
1938, who identified a clay model of the animal at Mohenjo-Daro. Piggott (1952, 126, 
130) reports a horse figurine from Periano Ghundai in the Indus Valley, dated some¬ 
where between Early Dynastic and Akkadian times. Bones from Harappa, previously 
thought to have belonged to the domestic ass, have been reportedly critically reexam¬ 
ined and attributed to a small horse (Sharma 1992-93, 31). 24 Additional evidence of 
the horse in the form of bones, teeth, or figurines has been reported in other Indus 
sites such as Kalibangan (Sharma 1992-93, 31 ); 25 Lothal (Rao 1979), 26 Surkotada 
(Sharma 1974), and Malvan (Sharma 1992-93, 32). 27 Other later sites include die Swat 
Valley (Stacul 1969); Gumla (Sankalia 1974, 330); Pirak (Jarrige 1985); 28 Kuntasi (Sharma 
1995, 24); 29 and Rangpur (Rao 1979, 219). A. K. Sharma (1992-93) comments on the 
academic reaction to these not inconsiderable reports: 

It is really strange that no notice was taken by archaeologists of these vital findings, and 
the off-repeated theory that the true domesticated horse was not known to the Harappans 
continued to be harped upon, coolly ignoring these findings to help our so-called veteran 
historians and archaeologists of Wheeler’s generation to formulate and propagate their 
theory of “Aryan invasion of India on horse-back.” (31) 

The exact species of the equid is the crucial issue in these identifications. The debate 
over horse bones has become acrimonious ever since Zeuner (1963) questioned the iden¬ 
tification of Ross’s pre-Harappan findings: “The earliest horse remains so far reported 
come from Rana Ghundai in Northern Baluchistan . . . the date of which is regarded as 
earlier than 3000 B.c. . . . this identification cannot be accepted as reliable unless it is 
carefully checked” (332). Since this challenge, detractors of the Indigenous Aryan school 
have been able to reject claims of horse bone findings as unreliable, since the bones 
might have appertained to the domestic ass, Equus asinus, or the hemione, Equus hemionus 
khur. Although the latter is indigenous to the Northwest of the subcontinent it is Equus 
caballus that is the sought-after Aryan steed. Until recently, these distinctions had ham¬ 
pered widespread acceptance of any existence of the horse at all in the Indus Valley 
because there are only minor differentiating features between the various species of Equus 
(See Meadow 1987, 909). These are either difficult for experts to identify or, unless 
the specific distinguishing parts of the skeleton are found (certain teeth and the phalan¬ 
ges—toe bones—are particularly important for differentiating equid subtypes), impossible 
to determine with certainty. Many of the remains could have belonged to either Equus 
caballus Linn or to some other member of the horse family and are thus rejected as 
incontestable evidence of the former. Thus Meadow (1987) writes: 

There are, as yet, no convincing reports of horse remains from archaeological sites in 
South Asia before the end of the second millennium bc. Many claims have been made 
(e.g., Sewell 19.31; Nath 1962, 1968; Sharma 1974) but few have been documented with 
sufficient measurements, drawings, and photographs to permit other analysts to judge for 
themselves. An additional complication is that some specimens come from archaeologi¬ 
cal deposits which could be considerably younger than the main body of material at the 
site. (908) 

The situation took a new turn, somewhat melodramatically, a few years ago. The 
material involved had been excavated in Surkotada in 1974 by J. P Joshi, and A. K. 

172 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Sharma subsequently reported the identification of horse bones from all levels of this 
site (circa 2100-1700 B.C.E.). In addition to bones from E quits asinus and E quus hemionus 
khur, Sharma reported the existence of incisor and molar teeth, various phalanges, and 
other bones from E quus caballus Linn (Sharma 1974, 76). Although some scholars 
accepted the report, doubts about the exact species of E quus represented by the bones 
prevented widespread recognition of Sharma’s claim. Meadow (1987) has written: “It is 
on the basis of this phalanx that one can ascertain from die published photographs that 
the ‘horse’ of Surkotada, a Harappan period site in the little Rann of Kutch, ... is 
likewise almost certainly a half-ass, albeit a large one” (909). 

Twenty years later, at die podium during the inauguration of the Indian Archaeo¬ 
logical Society’s annual meeting, it was announced that Sandor Bokonyi, a Hungarian 
archaeologist and one of the world’s leading horse specialists, who happened to be passing 
through Delhi after a conference, had verified that the bones were, indeed, of the do¬ 
mesticated Equus caballus: “The occurrence of true horse (Equus caballus L.) was evi¬ 
denced by the enamel pattern of the upper and lower cheek and teeth and by the size 
and form of incisors and phalanges. Since no wild horses lived in India in post-pleistocene 
times, the domestic nature of the Surkotada horses is undoubtful (reproduced in Gupta 
1993b, 162; and Lai 1997, 285). Sharma, vindicated, received two minutes of applause 
from the entire assembly (Sharma 1992-93, 30); there now seemed to be no doubt 
about the horse at Surkotada. Sharma comments on this validation: 

This was the saddest day for me as the thought flashed in my mind that my findings had 
to wait two decades for recognition, until a man from another continent came, examined 
the material and declared that “Sharma was right.” When will we imbibe intellectual 
courage not to look across borders for approval? The historians are still worse, they feel 
it is an attempt on the part of the “rightists” to prove that the Aryans did not come to 
India from outside her boundaries. (30) 

This poignant statement reveals two significant dimensions to the Aryan problem. 
Sharma's comments afford us a glimpse at the political tension underlying even as in¬ 
nocuous a piece of data as a horse’s molar. Second, and (only) partly as a corollary of 
the emotionalism that the Aryan problem generates in India, many Indian scholars still 
value the opinion of a Western scholar more than that of their compatriots. 30 

Bokonyi’s endorsement of the Surkotada findings have also been challenged, in turn 
however. Bokonyi had identified six tooth specimens that could “in all probability be 
considered remnants of true horses” (1997, 298-299). Meadow’s subsequent investiga¬ 
tions into these identifications caused him to conclude that “we agreed to disagree on 
all these matters and noted the need for further research. ... we cannot accept without 
serious reservations Bokonyi’s identifications of any of the Surkotada material as true 
horse, but in the end that may be a matter of emphasis and opinions” (1997, 315). 31 
Unfortunately, Bokonyi was not able to write a reply before his death. Meadow’s reser¬ 
vations refer to the problems outlined previously relating to the difficulty of distinguish¬ 
ing between the different equid species in an unambiguous fashion. 

Although A. K. Sharma claims that the bones of E quus caballus have been discov¬ 
ered “from so many Harappan sites and that too right from the lowest levels [thus es¬ 
tablishing] that the true domesticated horse was very much in use by the Harappans” 
(1992-93, 33), with the exception of the report from Rana Ghundai, which was ques- 

The Indus Valley Civilization I 73 

tioned by Zimmer, 32 and Piggott’s reported horse figurine from Periano Ghundai, it 
would appear that much, if not all, of even the contested evidence comes from strata 
associated with later Harappan sites or at least not from the Pre-Harappan or Early 
Harappan period. This, of course, as with the SarasvatT, and the fire altars at Kalibangan, 
leaves scope for the proposal that, even if for argument’s sake one is prepared to allow 
the claims regarding horse bones, it could still be argued that the Aryans could have 
introduced the “true” horse into the subcontinent during the Harappan period itself: 
“Indeed with the present state of evidence it would be unwise to conclude that there is 
any proof of the regular use of the horse in pre-Harappan or Harappan times” (Allchin 
and Allchin 1982, 191). Even B. B. Lai (1997), who is prepared to question the theory 
of Indo-Aryan migrations, has to acknowledge that “one would like to have much more 
evidence, to be able to say that the horse did play a significant role in the Harappan 
economy” (162). 

A more significant horse lacuna, in the opinion of some, is that “several animals 
appear on Harappan seals . . . but the horse is absent” (Sharma 1995, 17). 33 In view of 
the fact that thousands of seals have been found, this absence is quite remarkable and 
potentially fatal to the Indigenous Aryanists, since, if the Aryan horse were indeed present 
in the Indus Valley, surely it would have attracted the artistic attention of, at least, the 
odd seal maker or two. Parpola, critiquing Sethna’s rejection of the Aryan Invasion 
hypothesis, drew attention, among other things, to the horse lacuna on the seals. How¬ 
ever, the Indigenous Aryanists are extremely resilient to what might appear to be fatal 
criticisms from their opponents. Sethna (1992) counters: 

As there are no depictions of the cow, in contrast to the pictures of the bull, which are 
abundant, should we conclude that Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had only bulls? And what 
about that mythical animal, the unicorn, which is the most common pictorial motif on 
the seals? Was the unicorn a common animal of the proto-historic Indus Valley? Surely, 
the presence or absence of depictions cannot point unequivocally to the animals known 
and decide for or against Aryanism. (180) 

Unless we are to suppose the existence of unique, monogenetic species of Harappan 
bull, it must be conceded that Sethna has a point; the cow is, indeed, also completely 
absent from seal depiction, although massive quantities of bovine bones have been found. 
Actually, such arguments were dismissed as early as Sir John Marshall’s time: “The 
negative argument... is not altogether conclusive; for the camel, too, is unrepresented, 
though the discovery of a bone of this beast . . . leaves little doubt that it was known” 
(Marshall 1931,28). 34 It seems safer to assume that certain animals appear on the seals 
at the exclusion of others as a result of culturally conditioned criteria, rather than be¬ 
cause they document the complete zoological diversity of the Harappan landscape. 

It is fair to note that even if some or all of the identifications of horse evidence is 
ambiguous, this should not then be translated into proclamations that the horse was 
not present in the Indus Valley; one would only have a right to say that the findings 
could belong either to Equus caballus or to another type of equid and that there has so 
far been no unambiguous evidence. The result of Bokonyi’s endorsement of the horse 
bones at Surkotada was that “many other excavators of Harappan sites started search¬ 
ing for the bones of Equus caballus, with at least one further siting claimed at Dholavira" 
(Sharma 1992-93, 31). Obviously, the horse would never have been an issue had it not 

174 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

been linked with the Indo-Aryans. If Indigenous Aryanists seem keen to promote any 
reports of horses in the Harappan civilization as evidence of the Aryan presence, their 
detractors seem just as keen to find reason to challenge all such reports. Clearly, were 
it not for the politicization of the Aryan issue, the reports of horse evidence, albeit sparse, 
would hardly have raised any eyebrows. 

There is a strong feeling among many of the archaeologists I interviewed that there 
are probably horse bones present in the many bags of bones that can be seen lying 
around in any Indian museum, but that they had never formerly been checked properly 
because the Indigenous Aryan position has only relatively recently climbed to ascen¬ 
dancy in India. In other words, scholars had previously just assumed that the Aryans 
were invaders and therefore were not so concerned about identifying horse bones. Hence, 
A. K. Sharma (1992-93) issues an appeal to young, up-and-coming archaeologists to be 
very attentive in their handling of animal bones and skeleton remains found in excava¬ 
tions, and not to attempt any personal weeding out of the material in order “to lessen 
the volume of finds, for fear of cost and labour involved in transporting them to head¬ 
quarters” . . . [Once here,] they should not be . . . dumped ... in some packing case for 
decades” (34). 35 

This is an important petition because unless horse bones are undeniably found in 
the Early, Pre-, and Mature Harappan strata, the Indo-Aryan speakers may be (and al¬ 
ready are) allowed a degree of synthesis with the later Harappan civilization, but their 
status as intruders, albeit considerably earlier than previously held, will still not be con¬ 
sidered convincingly undermined to die satisfaction of all. As two scholars who reviewed 
the horse evidence conclude, “considering that the presence of the horse during the 
Harappan period is a matter of popular controversy in Indian archaeology, the subject 
deserves more serious and systematic treatment than it has so far received” (Thomas 
and Joglekar 1994, 187). 

It might be timely to again briefly refer to some of the Indigenous Aryan positions 
on this crucial issue, which were discussed in chapter 6. The horse has always been an 
elite animal in the subcontinent, but a nonnative and rare one, hence the paucity of 
evidence in the archaeological record. This, however, need have nothing to do with the 
indigenousness of the Indo-Aryans themselves, who simply imported this prized ani¬ 
mal in the ancient period, as they have always done right up to the modern period. 
Bridget Allchin (1977) voices a similar position after the exchanges between Bokonyi 
and Meadow: 

From early historical times forward we know that horses have been regularly imported to 
South Asia. We also know the Indus had a long tradition of trade with centres to the west 
and north. Would it be surprising therefore if horses were occasionally acquired through 
trade, ultimately reaching the Indus world by land or sea? This would account for the occur¬ 
rence of a small number of their bones in various contexts without the need to assume their 
presence must necessarily be associated with profound cultural change. (316) 

The paucity of horse bones could simply denote the possibility that die animal was an 
elite and rare item. All this, of course, will be considered special pleading by the detrac¬ 
tors of the Indgenous school. 

Another observation that needs to be pointed out is that a number of scholars are 
prepared to consider that the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), which 

The Indus Valley Civilization l 75 

will be discussed in the next chapter, is an Indo-Aryan culture. The horse has been 
evidenced in this culture in the form of representations in grave goods. However, no 
horse bones have been found despite the availability of a large number of animal bones. 
This again underscores the point that lack of horse bones does not equal the absence of 
horse. Nor, at least in the opinion of those who subscribe to the Indo-Aryan identifica¬ 
tion of the BMAC, does this lack equal the absence of Indo-Aryans. Therefore, anyone 
prepared to associate the BMAC culture with the Indo-Aryans cannot then turn around 
and reject such an identification for the Indus Valley on the grounds of lack of horse 
bones in the latter. 

As a final note, if the horse is to be promoted as the Achilles’ heel of the Indigenous 
Aryan school, those advocating the Dravidian speakers as the inhabitants of the Indus 
Valley have their own lacuna to account for: 

It has been stated by the supporters of the Dravidian theory that the Aryan invaders chased 
away the Dravidian-speaking Harappans to the southern part of India. . . . Those who 
hold this view have squarely to answer: If the Aryans pushed the Harappans all the way 
down to South India, how come there are no Harappan sites at all in that region? The 
southernmost limit of the Harappan regime is the upper reaches of the Godavari. There 
is no Harappan site south of that. (Lai 1997, 284) 

This observation merits consideration. Even if the Dravidians had not been pushed 
down, but subsumed, one would have some grounds to expect seals, samples of the 
Indus script, or any item of material culmre from any hypothetical Dravidian Harappans 
to have been shared with their fellow Dravidian speakers down South (and consequently 
surface in the archaeological record). This is not the case. Even before the Harappan 
decline, one would have expected much greater trade and cultural exchange with the 
South had the two areas shared a common language and culture. The same can be said 
for any attempts to link the Harappans with the Munda speakers from the east. The 
Dravidian Harappanists, while very conscious of the horse evidence, tend to overlook 
this objection to their own position. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of 
different types of socioeconomic cultures and civilizations that nonetheless share the 
same language: Lai himself, in a later chapter, argues that the nomadic Indo-Aryan 
composers of the Rgveda, could have coexisted with urban Indo-Aryans of the Indus 

The Chariot 

The spoked-wheel chariot also is fundamental to Aryan identification. If the Aryans 
were a principal linguistic community within the Indus Valley Civilization, their exist¬ 
ence there should be confirmed not only by the horse but also by the spoked-wheel 
chariot. This piece of technology, called ratha in Sanskrit (< PIE *rota), is common to 
the Indo-European peoples, since, like the horse, its nomenclature has cognates in Indo- 
Iranian, Italic, Celtic, Baltic, and Germanic. Likewise, the terms for the parts of the 
chariot—the wagon pole, harness, yoke, and wheel nave—also have cognates generously 
distributed in various Indo-European languages. Either the Proto-IndcvEuropeans knew 
the chariot or it was a later innovation that swept across the Indo-European-speaking 

176 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

area. In either event, the Indo-Aryans certainly utilized the technology after the disper¬ 
sion of the various Indo-European tribes, an inference evidenced by the central role it 
plays in the Veda (which parallels its importance in other old Indo-European texts such 
as the Homeric hymns). The quest for the Indo-Aryans, then, as a result of a logic analo¬ 
gous to that impelling archaeologists to look for the horse, unavoidably involves search¬ 
ing for archaeological evidence of the chariot. 

Although iconographic representations of solid-wheeled vehicles are attested as early 
as the fourth millennium b.c.e ., 37 the earliest evidence of the spoked-wheel chariot oc¬ 
curs in wheel imprints in the Sintashta cemetery dating to about 2000-1800 b.c.e., in 
representations from Syrian seals from the Anatolia, Uruk, and on eighteenth and sev¬ 
enteenth centuries b.c.e. Syrian seals (Mallory 1989, 69). Just as Equus caballus Linn, 
is the precise equid scholars have selected to demonstrate Aryan identity, the spoked- 
wheel chariot is the specific vehicle involved in the same task. Scholars have generally 
held that the horse-drawn, spoke-wheeled chariot was introduced into the Near East by 
Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples intruding from the north. The principal support for this 
hypothesis is the famous Hittite manual from Bogazkoy, mentioned previously, wherein 
technical terms relating to the training of chariot horses are used. The text is written in 
Hittite, an Indo-European language, but, as 1 have discussed, the technical terms are in 
a dialect of Indo-Aryan very closely connected with Vedic Sanskrit. Although Piggott 
(1977, 1983) maintained that the arrival of these Indo-European groups did, indeed, 
inaugurate the new technology in Mesopotamia, 38 Littauer and Crouwel (1979, 68) 
prefered to consider the chariot a local, Mesopotamian development, 39 while Moorey 
(1986, 211) considered that a combination of local and external factors resulted in the 

Evidence for chariot use prior to the common era is documented much less by actual 
archaeological finds of the vehicle itself than by iconographic and literary evidence of it. 
In India, however, the earliest evidence of the chariot seems to have been at Atranjlkhera 
in the Upper Gartga Basin sometime between 350 and 50 b.c.e. (Gaur 1983, 373) and 
representations occurring in the late first millennium, on stupas, Ashokan pillars and 
Kushana art. 40 There is plenty of evidence of wheeled vehicles in the Indus Valley, 
particularly in the form of miniature models or toys (Mackay 1943, 162-166), 41 but 
nothing suggestive of spoked-wheels or chariots. Of course, this is negative evidence 
based on argumentum ex silentio, and one could argue that it is not practical to construct 
miniature spoked wheels from clay hardy enough to withstand the abuse of children, 
hence the lacuna of the spoked wheel. Moreover, many of the toys are missing their 
wheels, so spoked wheels could have coexisted with solid ones, as is the real-life case in 
the Sindh today. Piggott (1970, 202), at least, was not averse to considering that some 
of the wheels that are missing from the carts may have been spoked and correctable 
with intruding Aryans. Nonetheless, the absence of definite evidence of the spoked wheel 
is a lacuna that is levied against the case of the Indigenous Aryanists. 

This absence is mitigated to a certain degree in that, even if we accept the latest date 
assigned by scholars to the Rgveda, namely, 1200 b.c.e., the chariot as known to this 
text must have unquestionably been in existence on the subcontinent for approximately 
a millennium before becoming evidenced in iconographic form just before the com¬ 
mon era. Witzel’s date of 1 700 b.c.e. increases that period to a millennium and a half. 
If we accept the opinion of those who hold that the “fire altars” in Kalibangan, the 

The Indus Valley Civilization 111 

evidence of the horse in later Harappan sites, and the circumstantial evidence of the 
Sarasvatl suggest (even to scholars who insist on their ultimate external origins) that the 
Indo-Aryans had some presence at least in the later period of the Harappan civilization, 
the period increases further still. The archaeological argumentum ex silentio clearly shows 
its limitations in this period during which we know the chariot was extant from the 
literary evidence, despite the fact that it has not been verified archaeologically. Obvi¬ 
ously, the farther back in time we go, the more the likelihood of finding such icono- 
graphic evidence decreases. Indeed early archaeological evidence for the oldest discov¬ 
ered spoked chariot wheel in the Sintashta Cemetery of the Andranovo culture, can 
only be inferred from soil discoloration from die decayed spokes, and slots in grave 
floors (Piggott 1983, 91). 

Therefore, since archaeology has not unearthed any signs of spoked wheels or chari¬ 
ots in the period of one, or one and a half, millennium during which we know from 
Vedic texts that the chariot was very much present in the Northwest of the subconti¬ 
nent, it seems legitimate to question the validity of this evidence as the final arbitrator 
of Aryan origins, especially since chariots leave little archaeolgical residue. In the event 
of a lucky find, archaeology can confirm, in such cases, but it cannot deny, in the ab¬ 
sence of the same. Such limitations causes some scholars to lament the perceived 
overdependence on archaeological evidence: “Unfortunately some archaeologists seem 
to have no eyes to see anything but what the spade digs up from the bowels of the earth, 
and no ears to hear anything that is not echoed from excavated ruins” (Majumdar 1959, 
11). Nonetheless, if the method of archaeology is to be allowed any value at all, then the 
burden of proof rests with those who wish to argue that chariots (and horses) were in 
use in the Indus Valley Civilization. While any archaeologist would agree that “absence 
of evidence is not evidence of absence,” theories can only be established on the pres¬ 
ence or absence of evidence until falsified by later discoveries. Otherwise, archaeologists 
would have to accept everything as possible and be unable to formulate any hypotheses 
at all concerning cultural evolution. 

The Indus Script 

While some of the evidence discussed here has caused many South Asian archaeolo¬ 
gists to reconsider or modify their positions regarding Indo-Aryan intrusions into the 
subcontinent, one piece of evidence that has been in academic custody since even be¬ 
fore the official discovery of Harappa could, if made to testify, immediately bear witness 
to the linguistic identity of the inhabitants of the Harappan civilization. This would 
have immediate repercussions for the entire Indo-Aryan debate and, indeed, to all in¬ 
tents and purpose could conclude the whole matter. The Indus seals (64), and a few 
other assorted items are imprinted with symbols of an unknown script. The decipher¬ 
ment of this script would determine in one decisive stroke whether the principal lan¬ 
guage spoken in the Indus Valley was Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda, or some other 
linguistic entity. Despite dedicated efforts spanning almost seventy years (which have 
included the use of sophisticated computer techniques), the script remains tantalizingly 
resistant to being deciphered. Needless to say, if these endeavors ever bear fruit, the 
need for searching through old bags of bones in quest of Equus cahallus molars will be 

1 78 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

eliminated in one decisive stroke. If the script can be shown to be some form of Indo- 
Aryan, there can be. no further serious debate about the dominant linguistic identity of 
the Indus Valley. On the odier hand, if it can be shown to be a non-Indo-Aryan lan¬ 
guage, then the entire case of the Indigenous Aryanists will lose most of its cogency. 

Just as this book is going to press, the discovery of what appears to be proto-Indus 
writing on shards of pottery from the Ravi phase that are as early as 3500 b.c.e. has 
been announced. 42 If this script contains the same language as the later Indus script 
(there is always die possibility that the same script might contain different langauges at 
different chronological periods), then any Indo-Aryan decipherment would have major 
repercussions for the whole Indo-European problem, not just the identity of the Indus 
Valley. The Indo-Europeans could still have been an undivided entity at this time, as 
will be discussed in chapter 12. An Indo-Aryan language during this period will drasti¬ 
cally affect the whole Indo-European homeland locating quest and provide unprecedented 
support for Indian homeland proponents. The script, for a number of reasons, is of 
great interest to Indigenists and Migrationists alike. 

The fact that both the language and the script are unknown makes the task extremely 
difficult. Other decipherment attempts have involved known languages in an unknown 
script (when decipherment is virtually guaranteed) 43 and unknown languages in a known 
script—a much more difficult combination. Although Hittite is an example of an un¬ 
known language successfully extracted from a known script (cuneiform), this second 
category is by no means guaranteed to bring success. Etruscan continues to refuse to 
yield to complete translation attempts despite being written in a form of Roman script, 
with even some bilingual inscriptions available in Latin. All this should sober any would- 
be decipherer intent on attempting the third and most difficult type of decipherment 
project: an unknown language in an unknown script. Such is the Harappan case. The 
task is not impossible: cuneiform, Linear B, and the Egyptian hieroglyphics are success¬ 
ful examples of previously unknown languages being extracted from unknown scripts, 
but, without bilingual inscriptions, success in this category is extremely unlikely. Cunei¬ 
form and the Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered with the aid of lengthy bilingual 
and trilingual inscriptions containing known languages. Even then, Jean-Francois 
Champillon, who succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphs, spent fifteen years compil¬ 
ing all the signs and variants before even attempting a reading, despite having access to 
the famous Rosetta stone, where the Egyptian pictographs were accompanied by a Greek 
translation. The decipherment of the Linear B script without any bilingual inscriptions 
by Michael Ventris in 1951 ranks as a great and rare achievement in the annals of 

Like Linear B, there are no bilingual inscriptions of die Indus script, but, unlike 
Linear B, the Indus seal decipherment is further hampered by the extreme brevity of 
the seals, each of which contains an average of only five symbols. The longest inscrip¬ 
tion is twenty-six symbols on three sides of an amulet, while the longest single-sided 
inscription is only seventeen symbols. To extrapolate a morphologically or syntactically 
consistent language from seals averaging a mere five signs is a nearly impossible task. 
The length of the seals parallels that of the Etruscan inscriptions, the brevity of which 
has also prevented their decipherment (apart from a few names). Yet, in the Etruscan 
case, some bilingual inscriptions are available, as is an extensive knowledge of the cul¬ 
tural setting of the people. 

The Indus Valley Civilization I 79 

The brevity of the Indus inscriptions allows various sounds from the same, or differ¬ 
ent, languages to be assigned to the same symbols and, with a little fudging and coax¬ 
ing, still result in meaningful words on some kind of a regular basis; hence the plethora 
of so-called decipherments. As Allan Keislar (n.d., 6) notes, however, spurred on by 
apparent success in assigning phonemes to some of the symbols and producing mean¬ 
ings that appear reasonable, at least to themselves, many would-be decipherers believe 
the reality of their system has been validated. If even a single lengthy text were to be 
found, then all the competing sound values could be put to the test to see if a seman¬ 
tically coherent and morphologically and syntactically consistent language emerged. 
Ventris applied his tentative sound correspondences to the Linear B script and was 
surprised to find Greek emerging from the texts (he was expecting a pre-Greek non- 
Indo-European language). Likewise, the BrahmT inscriptions were decipherable from a 
few Ashokan pillars, but the inscriptions were lengthy enough to allow a clearly identi¬ 
fiable Prakritic Sanskrit to emerge. 

One of the few things on which most scholars do agree is the direction of the writing 
on the seals, which is obviously the first feature to be established before any attempts 
can be made to “read” the signs. Lai, in 1966, pointed out that on some inscriptions 
incised on pottery shards, certain symbols had been superimposed over the symbol to 
their right, which they partly effaced, thereby indicating that they had been inscribed 
after the right-hand symbol had been written; this would indicate writing from right to 
left. An inscription along three sides of another seal also shows that the writing could 
only have been from right to left. However, the situation is complicated somewhat by 
similar evidence indicating that the writing was sometimes incised in a boustrophedonic 
fashion (‘as the ox plows,’ i.e., left to right to left, etc.). 

There is still no agreement among scholars regarding whether the script is logo-syl¬ 
labic, or syllabic. Many scholars feel that it represents a logo-syllabic script, based on 
the fact that they identify approximately four hundred distinct principal signs (exclud¬ 
ing hundreds of additional signs, which they construe either as variations of these or as 
conjunct signs). Logographic scripts, where a sign denotes a complete word, need a much 
larger number of signs—up to nine hundred—to represent the range of words required 
in communication. Syllabic scripts, where each sign represents a syllable, need fewer 
signs—typically fifty to one hundred—to denote the entire possible range of syllables utilized 
in a language. 44 Since the number of distinct Indus signs appears to fall between these 
two categories, the script has been designated as logosyllabic by some. In the opinion of 
other scholars, however, the script is considered to be primarily syllabic. Such scholars 
perceive a much smaller number of basic signs in the script and construe the remainder 
as being conjunct forms or voweled variants of these basic signs. 

Sanskrit Decipherments 

Several scholars have a priori ruled out the possibility of a Sanskrit language being 
uncovered in the seals. Zide (1979) feels that this is “completely inadmissible on the 
grounds of chronological incongruity . . . and so is immediately discredited” (257). In 
other words, since the Indo-Aryan language is assumed not to have entered the subcon¬ 
tinent until after the Indus Valley, it is not even a candidate. Along the same lines, 
Possehl (1996) states that “Indo-Aryan is dismissed since the Fairservis position is that 

180 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

representative languages of the family arrived in the subcontinent at ca. 1500 B.C.” 
(153). Such a priori grounds will not be invoked in this analysis, which has suspended 
all presuppositions concerning the origins of the Indo-Aryans. 

However, other scholars believe that the script cannot be Sanskrit for structural rea¬ 
sons. Computer analyses of the morphology of the script suggest to them that it did not 
have prefixes and inflectional endings. If this were to be proved true, then Indo-Aryan 
and any other early Indo-European language, which do contain such features, would 
have to be disqualified as likely candidates. This would result in the entire Indigenous 
Aryan position losing cogency. It is imperative for the entire Indigenous case that the 
script be Indo-Aryan. On the other hand, it has also been argued that it is unlikely that 
the script is Dravidian, since it uses a numbering system with a base ten. Dravidian 
uses base eight. 

S. R. Rao’s claim of decipherment, which he has presented in a variety of publica¬ 
tions (1979, 1991), is the best known attempt from the Indigenous Aryan school be¬ 
cause of this scholar’s preeminent status in Indian archaeology. An official Indian gov¬ 
ernment tourist publication on Dvaraka presents one of Rao’s translations for a seal 
found off Dvaraka as factual (Keislar n.d., 19), 45 Since his efforts are often promoted by 
the Indigenous Aryan camp, Rao’s work merits some attention. 

Based on the strata in which certain seals were found, Rao (1991) proposes that the 
script underwent an evolution from logosyllabic, in the Early Harappan period, to pho¬ 
netic, in the Mature and Late Harappan period. Rao identifies thirty-four basic cursive 
signs that occurred in the Mature Harappan period, but, since he considers some of 
these to be alternative signs, he reduces the number occurring in the Late Harappan 
period to twenty-four. Thus the script, in Rao’s system, is essentially phonetic, although 
it developed from a logosyllabic progenitor. He sees all the remaining Indus signs that 
are not pictographic or basic as being either compound forms, diacritic markers, or vocalic 
indicators that qualify this basic group. 

Having reduced the total number of signs to this essential core, Rao’s method in¬ 
volves comparing this nucleus with similar signs from the Semitic script, specifically the 
Old North Semitic and South Semitic scripts of the Phoenicians, Hebrews, and South 
Arabs. The oldest inscriptions in these scripts date from 1600 to 1200 B.C.E., a period 
that overlaps with the Late Harappan period and the latest attested samples of the Indus 
script. Rao considers this method justifiable because there were substantial trading and 
cultural connections between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. He finds seventeen 
of his thirty-four signs common to the two scripts, with some minor alterations, and 
assigns the same phonetic value from these seventeen Semitic signs to their Indus coun¬ 
terparts. He also finds 16 of the basic Indus signs have a close similarity to the much 
later South Asian BrahmT script, despite the chronological gap of circa one millennium 
between the two. 46 His readings, however, seem to be based mostly on the letters with 
Semitic similarities. Rao finds that the seals read by his method reveal an Old Indo- 
Aryan language. 

While Rao’s procedure, so far, is a reasonable one to consider, at least as a working 
hypothesis, his treatment of two other signs from his basic core, the ‘man’ sign and the 
‘fish’ sign, which are among the most common of the Indus signs but do not have 
Semitic equivalents, seems much more arbitrary. Taking the Sanskrit word for ‘man’ 
nr/nara and for ‘fish’ sakala, Rao assigns the second letter r from the former and the 

The Indus Valley Civilization 181 

first letter s' from the latter to the man and fish signs, respectively. He follows a similar 
procedure in assigning sound values to various other common pictographic signs, ex¬ 
cept, in these instances, instead of extracting a single phoneme, he chooses to assign a 
full syllable from the Sanskrit word corresponding to the sign (i.e., sak for the ‘bird’ 
picture). Rao justifies such apparent arbitrariness, including the choice of the particular 
Sanskrit synonym he decides to select for the picture (i.e., sakuna ‘a bird of omen’ as 
opposed to the more common words for bird such as paksi or vihaga ) simply because it 
works—words meaningful to his sensibilities are produced by the assignment of certain 
syllables as opposed to others. 47 The problem, of course, is that the script can also be 
made to “work,” at least to the satisfaction of other would-be translators, by assigning a 
wide variety of syllables to the same symbols. Keisler produced a chart showing the 
wide assortment of phonemes or syllables assigned to the same Indus sign by the vari¬ 
ous principal decipherment contenders—all of whom seem satisfied that their particular 
versions are valid because they work. 

Another interesting decipherment attempt by Subhash Kak, a professor in the elec¬ 
trical and computer engineering department of Louisiana State University, also connects 
the Indus script with Indo-Aryan and is noteworthy because of its innovative method¬ 
ology. As Possehl (1996) notes, “Kak’s work brings to it the serious mind of a scientist, 
and his ability to deal with the problem in a quantitative way is needed.” As he points 
out, this is a welcome change: “Kak’s great strength is that he brings mathematics into 
play on the study of the script. His is not the old-fashioned iconography analysis, tried 
again and again” (148). Kak sets out to determine whether the later BrahmT script might 
be connected with the Indus signs, since it is the oldest known orthographic script for 
the Indie languages. Like Rao, Kak considers the script to be syllabic on the grounds 
that if the thirty-three consonants known to BrahmT are conceived of as being modifi¬ 
able in ten different ways by the addition of ten different vowel signs, the resulting number 
approaches the basic corpus of signs recognized by most scholars. Kak reduces the 300- 
odd Indus characters down to a set of 39 primary signs, most of which he feels are 
easily identifiable (either as primary signs or as combinations of primary signs). These 
39 signs, singly or in combination, account for 80 percent of all the signs; in compari¬ 
son, BrahmT has 45 primary letters. 

Kak’s next observation is that although logosyllabic scripts have more signs, each 
individual sign occurs more consistently than in a syllabic system where some signs 
occur with high frequency and others rarely. Thus, from a random 13,000 letters in 
English, a syllabic script, for example, one would expect to see E about 1,700 times, T 
about 1,200 times, and J, Q, X, and Z only 17, 16, 20, and 10 times each, respectively. 
In parallel fashion, from a corpus of 1 3,000 Indus signs, two signs constitute 2,000 of 
the total, while more than 200 signs occur less than 10 times each (Kak 1987a, 54). 
Kak then takes ten different Sanskrit texts of one thousand words each (in order to 
represent a range of different genres), processes the combined ten thousand words through 
a computer, and draws up tables of the ten most commonly occurring Sanskrit pho¬ 
nemes. These are (in decreasing order): t, r, v, n, m, y, s, d, p, and k. He then assigns the 
BrahmT characters for these letters and compares them with a table of the ten most 
commonly occurring Indus symbols. He finds there are convincing parallels between 
four of the two sets, BrahmT v, m, t, and s, which even appear in the same order of 
frequency. Certain changes, he feels, have taken place (e.g., the fish sign had been flipped 

182 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

sideways), but he argues that such modifications can also be seen in the evolution of 
BrahmT to Nagarl. According to Kak’s calculations (1988, 135), the probability of these 
resemblances occurring by chance is 0.1 x 10 -12 . It should be noted, however, that the 
phonemes he assigns to the Indus script on the basis of their similarities differ from the 
phonemes Rao assigns to his BrahmT/Indus correlations. 

Nonetheless, granting all of Kak’s observations, all that can be inferred at this point 
is that perhaps the BrahmT script was derived from the Indus script. This possibility 
does not deal with the language family represented by the script. Kak is wise enough 
not to proclaim that he has deciphered the script or to produce long lists of transla¬ 
tions, but he does offer one tentative, but potentially very significant, morphological 
observation. He sees evidence in the Indus inscriptions for a Sanskrit genitive case marker: 
“The genitive case-ending in Sanskrit is often -sya or -sa and in Prakrit the ending is 
generally -sa or -ssa and this is what we frequently see in these inscriptions. This sug¬ 
gests that the Indus language is likely to have been Prakritic” (1992, 206). 48 

Kak’s methodology in determining this case ending is to correlate the s phoneme in 
dte BrahmT script with the most frequently occurring Indus symbol, the jar sign. He 
argues that if the three types of Sanskrit s (dental, palatal, and retroflex) were counted as 
one (as occurred in Pali and later prakrits where they were merged into one sibilant), 
then this phoneme would occur first in the list of the ten most frequently occurring 
Sanskrit phonemes, thus corresponding in frequency to the most commonly occurring 
Indus sign, the ‘jar’. Most significantly, he finds that the BrahmT sign for -s does actu¬ 
ally resemble this jar sign. Since this sign occurs very frequently at the end of inscrip¬ 
tions, and since the seals of the historic period, from Ashoka’s time and after, almost 
all ended in the genitive case, Kak believes he has grounds to identify it as a genitive 
case marker. Seals ending in the genitive possessive marker—denoting ownership of 
goods—would quite likely be used for trading purposes. Most scholars do actually be¬ 
lieve that the seals were connected with trade (they have been found in Bahrain and 
Mesopotamia). Interestingly, Parpola (1994) agrees that this sign does occur frequently 
at the end and also proposes that it could be a genitive marker (although not an Indo- 
Aryan one). 49 By simply trying to identify one element of Indo-Aryan morphology in 
the script, Kak can claim that the principal language of the Indus Valley Civilization 
was Indo-Aryan without claiming to have deciphered the script. This is a more discreet 
and effective statement, to my sensitivites, than one claiming to be able to read entire 
signs. Whether it is correct, of course, is another matter. 

The Indus ‘jar’ sign. 

The Indus Valley Civilization 183 

Dravidian Decipherment Attempts 

A brief glance at how the most common Indus sign, the ‘fish,’ has been deciphered by 
one or two principal scholars promoting a Dravidian language will suffice to parallel 
the I'A attempts. (For a complete overview of most decipherment attempts, see Possehl 
1996.) The most popular candidate for the script, from the non-Indo-Aryan side, is 
Dravidian. Just as there are a priori objections against considering the script to be Indo- 
Aryan, there is an a priori objection against a Dravidian identification, paralleling Lai’s 
comment, noted earlier, that there is no trace of the Indus culture in the areas where 
Dravidian speakers are known, and have been known, to reside. As Sjoberg (1992) puts 
it: “If we assume that some Dravidian speakers at least. . . formed part of the Harappan 
civilization, with its cities and its special script, the question arises: Why is there no 
record of a non-Aryan writing system in South India? Writing, so far as we know, was 
an Aryan introduction” (7). The same consideration applies to Munda. Moreover, as 
noted earlier, the numbering system of the script, which uses a base of ten, does not 
appear to correspond to that of Dravidian, which uses a base of eight. 

Parpola’s (1994) work is useful exposition of everything that has been done on the 
script by scholars so far with the aid of computers. 50 All these efforts are essential in 
order to gain some glimpses at the possible morphological and inflectional structure of 
the Indus language, but, as Parpola (1994) acknowledges, despite the significant input 
from computer analysis, “we must conclude by frankly admitting our present inability 
to identify morphological markers with any certainty” (97). The formal grammar of the 
script being prepared by such efforts “will be useful in limiting the range of guesswork 
when a breakthrough is achieved. But the breakthrough itself cannot be achieved by 
this method” (101). 

Anyone attempting to crack the Indus script with the presently available resources 
must venture into the realm of speculation and guesswork. Parpola’s presupposition 
(1994) is “that the Harappan language is most likely to have belonged to the Dravidian 
family” (174). He limits his attempts at decipherment to a small number of symbols, 
fully aware of the shortcomings of such endeavors. His principal decipherment involves 
the common Indus sign ‘fish,’ to which he assigns the syllable min. He considers this 
an appropriate identification because the word min means ‘fish’ in most Dravidian lan¬ 
guages and is reconstructed as such in proto-Dravidian. 

The Indus ‘fish’ sign. 

184 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

However, since this extremely common sign could hardly refer to ‘fish’ everywhere it 
occurs, Parpola prefers to consider it a referent to ‘star’, since min is a homonym for 
both ‘fish’ and ‘star’ in the Dravidian languages. He himself notes, however, that some 
Harappan pottery bears symbols that specifically resemble stars, leaving one to wonder 
why the symbol for another word would need to be used for the star, which has a natu- 
ral-looking symbol of its own. He then finds reason to believe that die star, by extern 
sion, is primarily a symbol for a god or astral divinity when it occurs in the seals. This 
is quite a series of assumptions and transferrals: Parpola’s principal sign, the most com¬ 
mon Indus fish sign, is the symbol for a god, by association with star, which is a Dravidian 
homonym for fish, which is the iconographic form that he sees in a common Indus 

Fairservis, (1992) who is also operating on the assumption that the Harappan lan¬ 
guage must have been Dravidian, does not believe the symbol to be a ‘fish’ at all, for a 
variety of reasons, but prefers to consider it to be a loop. The Dravidian for ‘loop’ (pir) 
also denotes a ‘chief or leader, which is the meaning Fairservis assigns to the sign. 
Where Parpola translates ‘star’, then, Fairservis reads ‘leader’. 51 Just as there are dis¬ 
crepancies between Rao’s and Kak’s Indus-to-BrahmT correlations, so Fairservis differs 
from Parpola in his Indus-to-Dravidian assignments, and both differ from Mahadevan, 
who has also attempted to decipher die script as a Dravidian language. 52 His efforts, as 
well as the dedicated and important efforts of Russian scholars, are amply outlined in 
Possehl (1996) and need not detain us here. In conclusion, then, I will again refer to 
Parpola (1994): “It looks unlikely that the Indus script will ever be deciphered fully, 
unless radically different source material becomes available. That, however, must not 
deter us from trying” (278). 53 

Before concluding, we must pay heed to Witzel’s discoveries, outlined earlier, that 
the linguistic influences detectable in the earliest hymns of the Rgveda are from Munda 
and decidedly not from Dravidian, which surfaces only in later strata of the Rg and in 
later texts. Since he holds that the Indo-Aryans entered the subcontinent at the tail end 
of the Indus civilization, he infers that die language immediately prior to their arrival 
was Munda—Dravidian entered later, dius influencing the later texts: 

As we can no longer reckon with Dravidian influence on the early RV, . . . this means 
that the language of the pre-Rgvedic Indus civilization, at least in the Panjab, was of Austro- 
Asiatic nature. This means that all proposals for a decipherment of the Indus script must 
start with the c. 300 Austro-Asiatic loanwords in the RV and by comparing other Munda 
and Austro-Asiatic words. . . . The decipherment has been tried for the past 35 years or 
so mainly on the basis of Dravidian. Yet, few Indus inscriptions have been “read” even 
after all these years of concerted, computer-aided attempts, and not in a fashion that can 
be verified independendy. . . . Yet, Kuiper’s ‘300 words’ could become the Rosetta stone 
of the Indus script. (Witzel b, 13; italics in original) 

Urbanity and the Rgveda 

At dais point, we should recall that the options for the Indigenous Aryan school are 
that the Vedic culture either preceded the Indus Valley culture, was contemporaneous 
with it, or succeeded it. There are two other significant and commonly encountered 

The Indus Valley Civilization 185 

objections that would seem to controvert attempts to correlate the Vedic period with the 
Indus civilization. First, smelted iron artifacts have not been found in the cities of the 
Indus Valley to date, but iron is known in the Atharvaveda and the Satapatha Brahmana, 
which would suggest that these texts, at least, were post-Harappan. As with the horse, 
the introduction of iron has long been associated with the incoming Indo-Aryans. More 
significantly, scholars from Marshall’s time to the present day have repeatedly drawn 
attention to the claim that the economic landscape that can be glimpsed through the 
Vedic hymns appears to be a rural pastoralist one, with no indication of urban centers. 

The introduction of iron into the subcontinent by the Indo-Aryans is another dis- 
carded intruding-Aryan tenet that is no longer accepted by archaeologists: “Archaeo- 
logically . . . the problem of the Aryans and their association with iron remains as con¬ 
fusing as ever, regardless of the earlier strongly expressed theories of their apparently 
tautological association” (Banerjee 1981, 320). Iron occurs in a number of locations 
that could not have been influenced by one particular source. Chakrabarti (1993-94) 
was one of the first to reject the idea that the Iron Age represents a “major social and 
economic transformation” (25). Questioning the idea of its external origin, he claims 
that iron appears in the archaeological record without causing any significant cultural 
break. Here, again, he complains about “the role of the Aryans in this context which 
seem[s] to have forced scholars into a position where their primary concern has been to 
correlate the early Indian data on iron to some diffusionary impulses through the north¬ 
west” (25). 

Of greater implication is Shaffer’s argument (1984a, 49) that during the late third 
millennium b.c.e. iron ore was recognized and utilized in southern Afghanistan and 
was manipulated to produce iron luxury items. The fact that there are early Harappan 
artifacts in the same stratigraphic proveniences as the iron artifacts suggests to him that 
“the ‘Early Harappan’ complexes had access to, or knowledge of, an iron technology.” 
In actual fact, although there is no evidence for awareness of smelted iron technology, 
iron ore and iron items have been uncovered in eight bronze age Harappan sites, some 
going back to 2600 b.c.e. and earlier. (These will be described in chapter 12.) So there 
was as awareness of iron, which may have been encountered accidently during the smelting 
of copper, and a willingness to exploit it. The Harappan awareness of iron ore cannot 
be considered an “iron age,” which is when smelted iron items became common items 
of household use and occurred around 1000 b.c.e. According to Possehl (1999b), “the 
iron age is more of a continuation of the past then a break with it” (165). Moreover, 
iron tools did not “lead to the subjugation of indigenous population by invading war¬ 
riors” (164). In any event, Shaffer concludes with a complaint that has become stan¬ 
dard for South Asian archaeologists: “Ideas of invasions, diffusions, and conquests have 
obscured and hindered investigation into the region’s indigenous cultural processes. 
To fully understand and appreciate the various solutions to cultural problems recorded 
in the South Asian archaeological record, alternative explanatory frameworks must be 
considered” (59). 

Regarding the connection between the Vedic landscape and the Harappan one, al¬ 
most all Indigenous Aryanists feel that the Vedic poets either preceded and/or coex¬ 
isted with the Harappan world. Scholars since the time of Marshall (1931) have long 
since discarded the former possibility, since “if the Vedic culture antedated the Indus, 
how comes it that iron and defensive armour and the horse, which are characteristic of 

186 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

the former, are unknown to the latter?” (Ill). Moreover, anyone open to considering 
whether the Vedic people coexisted with or authored the Indus Valley Civilization would 
be “wholly at a loss to explain how the Indo-Aryans came to relapse from the city to the 
village state, or how, having once evolved excellent houses of brick, they afterwards 
contented themselves with inferior structures of bamboo” (112). 

From the Indigenous Aryan side, there have been dozens of books attempting to fit 
the hymns of the Rgveda into the ruins ol the Indus (e.g., Prakash 1966; Sankarananda 
1967; Chandra 1980; Deshmukh 1982; Singh 1995). This position has to contend with 
the conclusions of Wilhelm Rau, who combed the early strata of Vedic literature in 
search of literary evidence for permanent Vedic settlements. His main concern was to 
evaluate Wheeler’s suggestion that the fortified citadels of the Harappans must have 
been those that the Vedic Aryans destroyed. Although hardly any scholars uphold 
Wheeler’s position today, Rau’s remarks are very pertinent to anyone attempting to 
correlate the Indus Valley Civilization with that of the Indo-Aryans, since he is evaluat¬ 
ing whether the Indo-Aryans had any familiarity with urban centers. His method is 
primarily an analysis of the attributes of a pur , which means ‘city’ in later texts, (as noted 
earlier, in the Rgveda Indra is called purandara ‘fort-destroyer’). 

Rau (1976, 41) believed his work permitted him to state the following conclusions 
“with confidence.” A pur in the Rgvedic period consisted of one or several concentric 
ramparts on a round or oval groundplan; was built of mud or stone; was fortified with 
combustible defenses; had gates made of wattle or prickly shrubs; was furnished with 
wooden sheds as quarters for human occupants; was stocked with provisions for man 
and cattle; was not permanently occupied but served as a refuge in times of need; was 
erected in war as a base of operations; and probably needed repairs after the rainy sea¬ 
son. Some of Rau’s interpretations are based on inferences, which it might be useful to 
reproduce so that they can be compared with those of the scholars attempting to corre¬ 
late the Indus cities with Vedic testimony. 

That the purah consisted of concentric ramparts seems to be based on the fact that 
Indra entered ninety-nine purahs in one day, on the adjective satabhujih (hundred¬ 
armed) which accompanies the word twice (it is also used with the river Sarasvatl), 
and on the prefix pari used when the sacrificer makes a purah ‘around’ himself (Rau 
1976, 24-25); that the purah were made from mud is based on the word dehi in two 
verses and the emendation of vipram to vapram in a third (26); that they were com¬ 
bustible is based on the fact that Agni helped Indra break the purah of the enemy 
(27); that they are made of wattle and palisades is based on the fact that the purah are 
made to bow down, fall backward, lie on the ground, or be rent like a garment (28); 
that they were fortified by prickles is “likely” based on verses produced from the very 
much later Arthasastra of Kautilya (ca. fourth century b.c.e.); that the human occu¬ 
pants lived in sheds (vimita) is based on two verses in which a golden and mighty 
vimita is said to exist in the creator Brahma’s world brahmaloke ; that the purah were 
not permanently occupied seems to be predicated on verses stating that the enemy 
were driven into their purah, and that the demons enter into theirs (34); that they 
were erected in war, and so on, is based on verses suggesting that the gods, disadvan¬ 
taged without purah, decided to make some of their own; and, finally, that they needed 
repairs after each rainy season is inferred from the fact that the term purah is juxta¬ 
posed with the word saradlh ‘autumnal’ (37). 

The Indus Valley Civilization 187 

There seems to be a good deal in Rau’s interpretations (1976) that is not explicit in the 
texts. Nonetheless, he reiterates an often cited observation: “Not a word is said in our 
texts of the characteristic features of the Indus cities, of brick walls, brick houses, brick- 
paved streets laid out on an orthogonal pattern, of granaries or public baths. . . . No state¬ 
ment in Vedic literature prompts us to assume a . . . formidable civilization” (52). 

In terms of the habitations of the Indo-Aryans themselves, Rau (1977) concludes 
from the relevant terms that grama denotes “a train of herdsmen roaming about with 
cattle, ox-carts and chariots in quest of fresh pastures and booty,” as well as “a tempo¬ 
rary camp of such a train, sometimes used for a few days only and sometimes for a few 
months at the most” (203). He reads another term, said, as referring to lodgings that 
“consisted of transportable sheds . . . made of bamboo-poles and reed mats, which could 
be assembled and dismantled in a minimum of time” (205). Although he notes that 
“there cannot be the slightest doubt that the Vedic Aryans practiced agriculture from 
the very beginning,” he nonetheless maintains that this “cannot prove the existence of 
‘villages’ in our sense of the term. . . . even a migrating population could do a little 
tilling of the soil on the side when resting for a while” (205). Rau, then, does not allow 
even villages as a feature of early Indo-Aryan society (except for some rare references), 
not to mention cities or an entire civilization such as that of the Indus Valley. He finds 
that the term nagara, which means ‘town’ from the time of the Taittirlya Aranyaka, occurs 
only once in an earlier text. 54 

In contrast to Burrow (1963), Rau considers arma or armaka to refer to rubbish heaps. 
Burrow accepted Wheeler’s theory that the Aryans were responsible for the overthrow 
of the Indie civilization and interpreted the terms arma/armaka as the ruined sites of 
this encounter, since “during the early Aryan period, the ruins of many Indus cities 
must have formed a conspicuous feature of the countryside” (Burrow 1963, 160), Rau, 
in contrast, envisions herdsmen revisiting the same camping grounds by rotation and 
developing the habit of throwing rubbish over the years regularly in the same spots. 
This rubbish accumulated into heaps, from which only potsherds can remain in the 
long run (potsherds from armas are prescribed for making certain ritual vessels). Here, 
again, he concludes that the immigrating Vedic Indians by necessity must have been 
constantly on the move during the centuries they conquered the plains of the Punjab 
and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. In this scenario, permanent settlements are not to be 
expected at all, since the migrating trains left behind only deserted resting places. Ac¬ 
cordingly, “it is useless to look for structural remains dating from Vedic times, in north¬ 
western India” (Rau 1997, 206). If this conclusion is correct, it is puzzling since, as 
Burrow noted, much of the area known to the composers of the Vedic hymns must 
have been littered with hundreds of Indus sites during the time frame normally allotted 
to Indo-Aryans intrusions. If the Vedic texts do not refer to such sites, it surely cannot 
be because the Indo-Aryans were not aware of them. This lacuna seems to be a peculiar¬ 
ity of the texts rather than a reflection of the Vedic landscape. The same, as I will argue 
later, holds true for any absence of references to urban centers. 

Bhagavan Singh’s (1995) is a recent and perhaps the most ambitious exposition of 
those holding contrary views to scholars such as Rau. Singh has compiled a glossary of 
all the technical terms and items relating to material culture from the Rgveda. The ref¬ 
erences are extracted from all contexts—poetic analogies, metaphors, similes, and so forth— 
on the grounds that the composers of the hymns could utilize such figures of speech 

188 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

only if their referents were a part of their everyday environment. Rau (1976) at least 
agrees with this basic point that “the world of the gods has always been fashioned in 
analogy to the human environment of their worshippers”(9). 

Singh’s lists are extensive. 55 I will select a few examples, which will suffice to illus¬ 
trate his attempt to subvert the claim that the Indo-Aryans knew no urban centers and 
were simple nomad pastoralists. I should note that specialists in Vedic philology will 
doubtlessly find plenty of words that Singh has translated in ways they will object to, 
and even more that are fanciful to the extreme. 56 His efforts to connect the Vedic Ary¬ 
ans with the Indus Valley go to the extreme of suggesting that the Rbhus were seal 
makers (Singh 1995, 162)! As mentioned in the introduction, I have examined evidence 
from every context, since I have often found that a scholar who can make an almost 
comically uncritical argument in one place can sometimes make a very insightful contri¬ 
bution in another. If nothing else, Singh has compiled useful lists that can provide the 
basis for further careful scrutiny. 

Of the seventy or so words Singh has extracted connected with cities and dwelling 
places, brhantam manam sahasradvaram grham ‘very large house with a drousand doors’ 
and sahasrasthuna grham ‘house with a thousand pillars’ are of particular interest, since 
they suggest to him acquaintance with monumental structures. 57 Likewise, from another 
long list of words associated with navigation, dasaritra ‘ship with ten oars’; s'ataritra 
‘ship with hundred oars’; and Vasistha in a ship in midocean make his best case. Singh 
has compiled numerous words connected with government, thereby arguing the exist¬ 
ence of quite a sophisticated system of organization involving rastra ‘kingdoms’; a vari¬ 
ety of types of rulers: raja, ekaraj, samrdj, janardj, jyesthardj, and so on; and various 
terms for assemblies, and similar gatherings: sarhsad, sabha, samiti, and so on. Of course, 
all these concepts could have existed among nomadic people: one has no right to as¬ 
sume that these political terms had the same denotation in the protohistoric period as 
they did in later texts. And one could always explain any genuine references to cosmo¬ 
politan life by postulating that the Aryans must have been aware of, and interacted with, 
cities in central Asia or even the Near East. Thus Braarvig (1997), for example, explains 
the reference to the hundred-oared ship—which he believes is “a type of ship scarcely 
used in Vedic culture”—as an image “that had probably followed the Vedic Indo-Euro¬ 
pean culture from other locations where such ships were in use ... a symbol which had 
got its meaning elsewhere” (347). Nonetheless, whatever their own level of social attain¬ 
ment might have been, there are a variety of reasons to review the long-held assumption 
that the Indo-Aryans knew no urban centers. These will be touched upon in the follow¬ 
ing discussion and in the next chapters. 

Some Western scholars have also been struck by discrepancies between the Vedic 
landscape and a nomadic one. Basham (1989) comments: “It is surprising that the Aryans, 
who at this time had never organized a settled kingdom or lived in a city, should have 
conceived of a god like Varuna, the heavenly emperor in his glorious palace, with innu¬ 
merable messengers flying through the cosmos at his bidding” (12). As far as Singh is 
concerned, if one is looking for nomads in the Rgveda, one will find nomads. He, at 
least, does not read the texts with the same assumptions: 

There was nothing in the Rgveda to look for a primitive or primarily nomadic society 
[sic]. . . . Chariots and wagons and boats which occur so frequently in the Rgveda do not 

The Indus Valley Civilization 189 

agree well with nomadism. Movement of cars presupposes existence of roads and defined 
routes, which in turn presuppose settlements and regular traffic from point to point. Boats 
and ships are not floating logs. They presuppose ferry ghats and fixed destinations. . . . 
there was much in the Rgveda that defied explanation. . . . But instead of reconciling the 
discordant features, scholars either ignored them or distorted the facts and features. (Singh 
1995, 8) 

Bisht (forthcoming) has also tried his hand at establishing “points of convergence” 
between the Harappans and the Rgveda. Like Rau and Singh, Bisht also pulls out ex- 
tensive references from the Vedic texts that he feels could correspond to urban architec¬ 
tural features. He also draws attention to Mitra and Varuna in their structures contain¬ 
ing a thousand pillars, as well as to a settlement or house with a hundred doors, a 
house with a thousand doors, a mansion with a thousand columns, a huge column 
supporting tire firmament, a construction of six pillars, columns of copper, and a house 
raised in the sea. A house compared to a pond particularly catches his attention: “Does 
not the comparison of a house to a pond indicate that such tanks were sometimes along¬ 
side or within a building, the kind of which we see in the elaborate structure containing 
the Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro’’ (421), as do the pillared structures, which “remind 
one of the large columnal hall in the citadel of Mohenjo-Daro” (420). 

Bisht finds evidence of a tripartite settlement in a variety of terms such as tridhatu 
s'arman ‘triply defended dwelling’ and tripura, which he dtinks are good candidates for 
three separate divisions of an intricately fortified multi-dimensional settlement the like 
of which may be seen in the Harappan city of Dholavira. . . . Harappa is also emerging 
as a multi-divisioned city. . . . Kalibangan too seems to be having three divisions” (413). 
This interpretation can be kept in mind when we encounter Parpola’s interpretations of 
the word tripura in the next chapter. Moreover, Bisht’s purs are far more sturdy and 
sophisticated than Rau’s, being drdha ‘solid’; drnhita, ‘strengthened’; adhrsui ‘impreg¬ 
nable’; asmanmayi ‘made of stone’; prthvi ‘extensive’; mahi ‘spacious’; ayasi ‘made of 
metal, metal-strong’; and isa ‘affluent’. The satabhuji ‘hundred-armed’ forts that Rau 
took to indicate concentricity are taken by Bisht as “having a hundred . . . bastions.” 
Bisht makes a point, perhaps also with Wheeler in mind, of noting that tire Aryans also 
owned purs; indeed, out of twenty-seven adjectives describing purs, “there occur as many 
as fifteen terms that qualify the Aryan purs in contrast to only eleven or twelve in favour 
of the non-Aryan ones” (410). The Aryans did not just destroy the purs of the Dasyus, 
they owned their own as well. 

Bisht is well aware of the plethora of opinions proffered in interpretations of the 
Vedic landscape: “Diametrically opposite views have been expressed and rejected due 
to intrinsic contradictions, lack of coherence or consistency inherent in the approaches, 
or due to the appearance of fresh evidence” (392). Like Singh, he believes previous in¬ 
terpretations were predisposed to anticipating the Indo-Aryans to be “barbarian equestri¬ 
ans who, before entering India, roamed about in Central Asia and the Iranian Pla¬ 
teau . . . [and] thrived on stock-breeding and primitive farming” (392). He, too, finds 
that “the information gleaned from the Rgveda projects a picture of considerably civi¬ 
lized Aryans.” They had “a variety of permanent settlements and fortified towns as 
well as monumental structures. They were advanced in agriculture, stock-breeding, 
manufacture of goods and long distance trade and commerce via roads, rivers, and 
seas” (393). 

190 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

B. B. Lai (1997) is a little more cautious in denying the nomadic character of tire Indo- 
Aryans: “Just as there were cities, towns and villages in the Harappan ensemble (as there 
are even today in any society) there were both rural and urban components in the Vedic 
times. Where then is the ‘glaring disparity’ between the cultural levels of the Harappan 
and Vedic societies?” (285). S. P. Gupta (1996) elaborates on this perspective: 

Once it becomes reasonably clear that the Vedas do contain enough material which shows 
that the authors of the hymns were fully aware of the cities, city life, long-distance over¬ 
seas and overland trade, etc. ... it becomes easier for us to appreciate the theory that the 
Indus-Saraswati and Vedic civilizations may have been just the two complementary ele¬ 
ments of one and the same civilization. And this, it is important to note, is not a presup¬ 
position against the cattle-keeping image of the Vedic Aryans. After all, ancient civiliza¬ 
tions had both the components, the village and the city, and numerically villages were 
many times more than the cities. In India presendy there are around 6.5 lakhs of villages 
but hardly 600 towns and cities put together. . . . Plainly, if the Vedic literature reflects 
primarily the village life and not the urban life, it does not at all surprise us.” (147) 

Allowing the primarily nomadic life of the Vedic poets, the possibility of nomadic cul¬ 
tures coexisting with urban societies merits consideration. Witzel (1989) notes that the 
possibility of urban centers being known to the Indo-Aryans “cannot simply be dis¬ 
missed,” since, although “there is no mention of towns in the Vedic texts . . . this may 
be due to the cultural tendency of the Brahmins who . . . could preserve their ritual 
purity better in a village than in a busy town” (245). 

Potentially significant evidence against the claim that the Indo-Aryans knew no cities is 
that archaeology is revealing settlements and small urban centers in the Punjab even in the 
Post-Harappan period, precisely where and when few' question that the Aryans were present: 

Sites such as Harappa continued to be inhabited and are still important cities today. . . . 
Late and post-Harappan settlements are known from surveys in the region of Cholistan, 

... the upper Ganga-Yamuna Doab,. . . and Gujarat. In die Indus Valley itself, post-Harappan 
setdement patterns are obscure, except for the important sites of Pirak. . . . This may be 
because the sites were along the newly-stabilized river systems and lie beneath modern vil¬ 
lages and towns that flourish along the same rivers. (Kenoyer 1991b, 30) 

As will be discussed in the next chapter, the excavator of Pirac, situated in die Indus 
Valley and dated between 1700 and 700 b.c.e. exactly where and when the Indo-Aryans 
were present in the subcontinent, considers the site a town of some size with elaborate 
architecture. Moreover, it revealed a more intense level of irrigation and cultivation than 
existed in the third millennium b.c.e. How does this evidence fit with the pastoral, 
nonurban horizens of the Indo-Aryans? The following is also noteworthy: 

Although the overall socio-economic organization changed, continuities in technology, 
subsistence practices, settlement organization and some regional symbols show that the 
indigenous population was not displaced by hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. . . . 

For many years, the “invasions” or “migrations” of these Indo-Aryan speaking Vedic/ 
Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the second rise of urban¬ 
ization in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. . . . This was based on simplistic models of culture 
change and an uncritical reading of the Vedic texts. Current evidence does not support 
a pre- or proto-historic Indo-Aryan invasion of southern Asia. . . . Instead, there was an 
ovedap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities . . . with no biological 
evidence for major new populations. (Kennoyer 1991b, 30) 

The Indus Valley Civilization 191 

So the hymns are not necessarily sparse in urban references because of ignorance or 
unfamiliarity with large settlements and urban centers. This evidence will be discussed 
further in chapter 11. 

Regarding the pastoral nature of the Indo-Aryans, Chakrabarti (1986) adds a further 
observation that “the inconvenient references to agriculture in the Rigveda are treated 
as later additions. The scholars who do this forget that effective agriculture is very old 
in the subcontinent, and surely no text supposedly dating from 1500 B.C. could depict 
a predominantly pastoral society anywhere in the subcontinent. Something must be wrong 
with the general understanding of this text” (Chakrabarti 1986, 76). In other words, if 
the Indo-Aryans were pastoralists, they must have always coexisted with agriculturists in 
India since agriculture predates the assumed date for their arrival by millennia. There 
could never have been a purely pastoral economic culture. 

In fact, the often held assumption that the undivided Indo-Europeans, at least, were 
pastoralists has been reconsidered by Indo-Europeanists. This assumption was stimu¬ 
lated both by the belief that the Indo-Europeans were nomadic hordes that alighted all 
over Eurasia, and the fact that agricultural terms seem to be somewhat confined to the 
European side of the family. Mallory (1997) points out the this belief meant that the 
Indo-Iranians lost their original Indo-European agricultural vocabulary but preserved a 
pastoralist one. Or it meant tht the Indo-Europeans themselves were pastoralists and 
that agriculture was a later development, or encounter, by the western Indo-Europeans 
after the Indo-Iranians, who preserved the old Indo-European pastoralist lifestyle, had 
departed from the common home. Or it meant that the homeland contained a mixed 
economy in its western parts and a primarily pastoral one in its eastern areas. 

Diebold (1992), however, has reconstructed a system of settled agriculture for the 
original Indo-Europeans in what he terms “Indoeuropa.” Mallory (1997) agrees that 
there is solid evidence in both European and Asiatic stocks for Proto-Indo-European 
cereals, as well as the agricultural terminology required to process them. He notes that 
“while the economic emphasis of the immediate ancestors of the Indo-Iranians may 
have been towards pastoralism there is good evidence that they too are derived from a 
mixed agricultural population” (236-237) There are a variety of reasons to reconsider 
the view that the character of the Indo-Aryans was purely pastoral. 

While most South Asian archaeologists, in interviews and publications, seemed quite 
open to the possibility that the world of die Rgveda could have coexisted with and pre¬ 
ceded that of Harappa, others object on archaeological grounds. In her critique of an 
Indigenous Aryan book, Ratnagar (1996b) does not attempt to refute the Vedic/Harappan 
correlation but does point out that the few pre-Harappan sites that have been excavated 
display signs of only rudimentary technology and humble material culture: “We ask 
how the fast horse-drawn chariot of the Rgveda could have been made at any of the 4th 
millennium b.c.e. sites, without the metal saws, adzes and chisels that make accurate 
carpentry” (75). Whereas the Rgveda is often considered too humble, materially, to be 
associated with the Harappan civilization, it is here considered too sophisticated for the 
Pre-Harappan culture. 

This point warrants attention, although, in my opinion, one should be cautious in 
attempting to connect the material from the Vedic hymns with the archaeological record. 
As Elizarenkova (1992) notes, “either one comes to know things due to archaeological 
findings and in this case their names and purpose may remain unknown, or only the 

192 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

names of the things are known from the texts, but the things themselves, as well as 
their purpose, are unknown” (129). Even if an archaeology of the Veda must be at 
tempted, there are limitations in drawing far-reaching conclusions from argumentum ex 
silentio in the archaeological record. Quite apart from not unearthing any saws, adzes, 
and chisels for the making of chariots, we should not forget that archaeology has not 
unearthed the actual chariot itself, either, until at least a full millennium after it was 
known to have existed on the subcontinent. Besides, archaeology has a tendency to 
suddenly unearth material that completely subverts previously held assumptions. 
Mehrgarh is the prime example. Prior to its discovery, scholars were inclined to believe 
that agriculture and urbanization were both diffused from West Asia. Mehrgarh, an 
agricultural settlement dating back to the seventh millennium b.c.e., dramatically dem¬ 
onstrated that “die theoretical models used to interpret the prehistory of Southern Asia 
must be completely reappraised” 0arrige and Meadow 1980, 133). 

Most dramatically, Mehrgarh direw the date for evidence of agriculture back two entire 
millennia. This clearly underscores the danger of establishing theories predicated on 
argumentum ex silentio in the archaeological record. Mehrgarh also undermined previ¬ 
ous assumptions that urbanization and agriculture were diffused from the centers of 
civilization to the west of the subcontinent. The site also set the stage for the indigenous 
development of complex cultural patterns that culminated in the great cities of the Indus 
Valley: “The origins of the Indus urban society can be traced to the socio-economic 
interaction systems and setdement patterns of the indigenous village cultures of the alluvial 
plain and piedmont. More importantly, the factors leading to this transformation ap¬ 
pear to be autochthonous and not derived from direct stimulus or diffusion from West 
or Central Asia" (Kenoyer 1991b, 11). 

This continuum of the archaeological record stretches from the seventh millennium 
B.C.E. right down through the Early, Mature, Late, and Post-Harappan periods. Of course, 
as in any cultural area over the course of time, there are regional variations and trans¬ 
formations, but no sudden interruptions or abrupt innovations that might alert archae¬ 
ologists to an intrusive ethnic group: “There were no invasions from central or western 
South Asia. Rather there were several internal cultural adjustments reflecting altered 
ecological, social and economic conditions affecting northwestern and north-central South 
Asia” (Shaffer 1986, 230). More than everything else, this lack of cultural discontinuity 
has caused an ever-increasing number of South Asian archaeologists to question: Where 
are the supposedly invading Aryans in the archaeological record ? Since this invisibility is the 
single most significant factor that has caused the Indigenous Aryan position to jettison 
the commonly held theories of philologers and become so widespread in India in re¬ 
cent years, it to this that we must turn in the next chapters. 


A primary reason that Indian archaeologists have become disillusioned with the whole 
enterprise of the Indo-Aryans is because they have been offered, and initially accepted, 
a progression of theories attempting to archaeologically locate the Indo-Aryans on the 
grounds of the philological axiom that their nature was intrusive. These theories have 
successively proved to be wrong or questionable. The course of scholarship in the last 

The Indus Valley Civilization 193 

century has evolved from images of blond, soma-belching, Germanic supermen “riding 
dieir chariots, hooting and tooting their trumpets” as they trampled down the inferior 
aboriginal Dasa (Singh 1995, 56), 58 through speakers of an Indo-Aryan language de¬ 
stroying the highly advanced civilization of the superior Dasa; to discrete trickles of Indo- 
Aryan speakers possibly coexisting in a neighborly fashion in the cities of the Indus 
Valley with the hospitable Dasa. As a result many archaeologists have become frustrated 
with the whole Aryan-locating enterprise and jettisoned the linguistic claims altogether. 
Failure to find any tangible evidence whatsoever of the Aryans has resulted in the present 
trend among many South Asian archaeologists, which is toward considering the indig' 
enousness of both the Indo-Aryans and the Dasa, period. As we saw in the greater Indo- 
European problem among Western scholars, in India, too, there is a chasm between 
many archaeologists and Western historical linguists, particularly since there are so few 
historical linguists in India itself and so little contact with linguistic theories originating 
in the West. Accordingly, the debate in India has been primarily conducted among ar¬ 
chaeologists, with a growing number rejecting the whole idea of anything but indig¬ 
enous origins for the various developments of the protohistoric archaeological record. 

Vedic philology, however, being more readily at hand, cannot be jettisoned so easily 
and a good number of South Asian archaeologists are quite proficient in, if not Vedic, 
then at least classical Sanskrit (which may be a disqualification from the perspective of 
Vedicists since words in the classical period may not have the same meanings as in the 
Vedic period). Accordingly, the relationship between the Vedic Aryans and the ruins of 
the Indus Valley has been negotiated in a variety of ways. Both Wilhelm Rau and Bisht, 
for example, and especially Singh have taken certain liberties according to their particu¬ 
lar viewpoints in extracting a picture of Vedic society from the hymns and attempting to 
correlate it with the archaeological record. There is little doubt that predispositions fla¬ 
vor the images that both have attempted to create. There is also a question of bound¬ 
aries. Who is deemed authorized to make interpretations, and by whom? I will only 
note in this regard that Rau immediately introduces his research with a caveat that “as 
a philologist, I lack the archaeological knowledge to tackle the problem in all its as¬ 
pects” and concludes that, since “Sir Mortimer’s theory is sustained by no literary evi¬ 
dence, it must rest entirely on archaeological facts and their interpretations.” He is 
speaking as a Vedicist. Bisht, although clearly proficient in Sanskrit, is trained as an 
archaeologist, not a philologist. He has taken it upon himself to visit the Vedic texts 
as an archaeologist who has excavated extensively in the Indus Valley, particularly in 
Dholavira, and is looking for descriptions of material culture that will add meaning to 
the bricks and pots of his excavations. Singh is a layman. These backgrounds are rel¬ 
evant to issues of authority and jurisdiction in the interpretation of evidence from dif¬ 
fering disciplines. Must we accept all opinions as equally valid? To what extent should 
scholars not specialized in a particular field be given consideration when they critique 
or challenge the opinion of specialists in that area? 

In conclusion, our options, then, are to locate the Indo-Aryans either before, during, 
or after the Indus Valley. The references to the full-flowing Sarasvatt make the strongest 
suggestion that the Indo-Aryans could have been present in the Mature Harappan pe¬ 
riod (although the reference to the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas must also be taken 
into account). Even allowing the SarasvatT evidence, it does not, of course, prove that 
they were not immigrants, albeit earlier than has been assumed, nor that they were the 

194 The Quest for die Origins of Vedic Culture 

dominant presence—only the script can determine that. The so-called fire altars are dubious 
as indicators of an Indo-Aryan presence, but as evidence they are as strong or as weak 
as anything that has been brought forward to identify diem in their overland trek through 
central Asia. This should be borne in mind as the central Asian material is reviewed in 
the next chapter. The lack of urban references in the Vedic texts may be a peculiarity of 
these texts since settlements continued in the post-Harappan period and Pirak, at least, 
was a town of some size and sophistication. 

The chariot is also a dubious indicator of Indo-Aryan origins since it seems too pre¬ 
carious to draw overly far-reaching conclusions about such a perishable item based on 
argumentum ex silentio in the archaeological record. The horse, by contrast, to my mind 
remains a serious obstacle to the Indigenous position, although it has always been a 
rare, imported item and also unlikely to provide much evidence in the archaeological 
record. Nonetheless, the burden of proof lies with those claiming that the horse (and 
chariot) were utilized in the Indus Valley, which would need to be the case if one is to 
argue for a Vedic presence there. Unlike chariots, which leave little archaeological resi¬ 
due unless decorated with metal parts (the earliest evidence of the spoked-wheel chariot 
in the Sintashta cemetery can only be inferred from soil discoloration), horse bones are 
no more degradable than other animal bones, which have been found in plenty. 

Of course, there are social considerations: if horses weren’t eaten, they are far less 
likely to show up in settlements; and if they weren’t buried with the deceased, they would 
not show up in cemeteries. Nonetheless, the horse evidence will continue to haunt the 
Indigenous position. As an aside, given the insistence from the Migrationist side that 
evidence of this animal must accompany any identification of the Indo-Aryans in the 
archaeological record, one can be sure that if unambiguous evidence of the horse does 
surface in a reliable Mature Harappan context, there will be an uproar on the subcon¬ 
tinent. Until such evidence is produced, however, attempts to correlate the Vedic Ary¬ 
ans with the ruins of the Indus Valley will have to engage in a certain amount of special 

Ultimately, the answer to the linguistic identity of the Indus Valley lies in our hands, 
but it has yet to yield its secret. If the Indus script turns out to represent an Indo-Aryan 
language, then I submit that most of the linguistic argument pertaining to the origins of 
the Indo-Aryans, and, indeed, the proto-Indo-Europeans over the last two centuries must 
be, if not completely jettisoned as some would have it, then throughly reevaluated. An 
Indo-Aryan script would also suggest that these speakers were the dominant linguistic 
entity in the subcontinent at this point in time and makes a far stronger case for the 
possibility of Dravidian/Munda and or “language x” (y or z) intruding on an ancient 
Indo-Aryan-speaking area rather than vice versa. I have attempted to thoroughly outline 
the assumptions underpinning the linguistic evidence in the previous chapters, and much 
of it will be instantly subverted if the script reveals an Indo-Aryan language dominating 
the Northwest of the subcontinent at such an early date. 

Indeed, an Indo-Aryan language during this period would have implications and 
corollaries for the entire Indo-European homeland problem, if the script does indeed 
go back to 3500 b.c.e., since most Indo-Europeanists hold that the Indo-Europeans 
were still undivided until sometime between 4500-2500. In other words, an Indo-Aryan 
script on the subcontinent at a time frame when the Indo-Europeans were still more or 
less undivided would constitute a solid argument for anyone choosing to locate the Indo- 

The Indus Valley Civilization 195 

European homeland in India. And the assignment of a 1200 or 1500 b.c.e. date for 
the Rgveda, as will be discussed in chapter 12, will merit the skepticism that Indig¬ 
enous Aryanists have generally directed to such efforts, as would the skepticism some 
scholars have directed toward attempts at dating Proto-Indo-European. 

On the other hand, if the script turns out to be any language other than Indo-Aryan, 
then the Indigenous case no longer merits much further serious scholarly consideration 
(although there could still have been Indo-Aryan pastoralists interacting with these ur¬ 
ban centers from very ancient times, even if the dominant language of the latter turned 
out to be non-Indo-Aryan). But the Indigenous case, at least to my mind, will be closed. 
No doubt, diehards on both sides will attempt to reconfigure things to salvage their 
respective points of view if the language revealed by the script confounds their expecta¬ 
tions: if it turns out to be Indo-Aryan, Migrationists will likely suddenly find reason to 
suppose that the migration must have taken place two millennia earlier than had previ¬ 
ously been thought. If it turns out to be other than Indo-Aryan, Indigenists will likely 
demote their Indo-Aryans to a dominated or colonized position in the Indus Valley 
(although I doubt that this is the type of secondary status for the Indo-Aryans that will 
be of interest to most Indigenists). At that point both positions become even more in¬ 
teresting subjects for historiographical and sociological analysis in my estimation. In 
particular, if the script turns out to be Indo-Aryan, and especially if the incisions on the 
shards from the Ravi phase of 3500 b.c.e. are proto-Indus writings that do incorporate 
the same language, the Indo-European homeland locating enterprise is likely to accrue 
even more scorn from the cynics than it has hitherto—Edmund Leach’s comments at 
the beginning of this chapter will take on a new significance. Whatever language is 
contained in the script, in my opinion, it would be unwise for decipherers to eliminate 
either Sanskrit, Dravidian, or Munda as possible candidates. 

In the meantime, for as long as the script remains resistant to decipherment, possi¬ 
bly the path of least resistance from a philological perspective would be to suggest that 
the Indo-Aryans who composed the Vedic hymns were primarily pastoralists. One has 
to work rather hard to fit the landscape of the Rgveda into the ruins of the Indus Valley 
civilization. This does not preclude the possibility that the Indo-Aryans might have 
interacted with the urban residents of the Indus Valley, whatever language they spoke. 
Of relevance here is Possehl’s observation (1977) of the “extraordinary ‘empty spaces’ 
between the Harappan settlement clusters,” as well as “the isolated context for a num¬ 
ber of individual sites” (546). He proposes that “pastoral nomads, or other highly mobile 
(itinerant) occupational specialists filled in the interstices,” since such spaces are un¬ 
likely to have been unoccupied. He goes so far as to suggest that “pastoralists formed 
the bulk of the population during Harappan times since there do not seem to be any 
settled village farming communities there” (547). Pastoralists and farmers coexisted “not 
... as isolated from one another, but as complementary subsystems: two aspects of an 
integrated whole. One relied on the intensive exploitation of plants and arable land, the 
other on the extensive exploitation of animals and pastures” (547). Moreover, “the pres¬ 
ence of pastoralists makes very good sense if we see them as the mobile population which 
bridged the gap between settlements as the carriers of information, as the transporters of 
goods, as the population through which the Harappan Civilization achieved its remark¬ 
able degree of integration” (548). Bridget Allchin (1977) produces case studies to demon¬ 
strate how “nomadic herdsmen form an important element of mral life in India and Pa- 

196 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

kistan today, including the old province of Harappan culture.” She adds that “there is 
every reason to suppose that they did so in Harappan times, and that they played an 
important part in the economy and organization of the Harappan world” (139). 

As a final note, even if the composers of the Vedic hymns did not live primarily in 
the cities of the Indus Valley, this fact in and of itself does not mean that the Harappans 
could not have contained Indo-Aryan speakers: a language family can obviously encom¬ 
pass urban dwellers as well as village dwellers, just as we see in numerous places today. 
It is important to stress in this regard that anyone promoting Dravidian or Munda as the 
language of the Indus Valley will anyway have to accept an identical situation: urban Dravidian 
or Munda speakers coexisting with nonurban tribal Dravidian or Munda speakers (some 
of which have remained tribal to this day). The southern Dravidian culture and eastern 
Munda culture were radically different from that of die Indus Valley in the third millen¬ 
nium b.c.e., so if hypothetical urbanized Harappan Dravidians or Mundas could have 
coexisted on the subcontinent with their nonurbanized fellow language speakers to the 
south or east, then Indo-Aryan speakers could have done likewise. Therefore, even if 
the Rgveda does not elaborately describe the flourishing cities of the Indus, there is no 
way to discount the possibility that it could still have been the product of an Indo-Aryan 
pastoral society that coexisted with an Indo-Aryan urban one. Moreover the Indus Valley 
Civilization may very well have been multi-lingual. 

As for the possibility of the Vedic landscape preceding the Indus one, here, again, if 
we are prepared to overlook the horse and chariot lacuna in the archaeological record, 
this is a chronological question that hinges on the date of the Veda. This will be thor¬ 
oughly discussed in chapter 12. For the present purposes, for all of the reasons outlined 
here, it seems fair to conclude that the archaeological evidence in the Indus Valley Civi¬ 
lization, whatever might have been the language of its residents, has not been able to 
resolve this debate. What might accomplish this is clear archaeological evidence of the 
Indo-Aryan migration across central Asia and into India. So it is to this evidence that 
we must now turn. 


Aryans in the Archaeological Record 

The Evidence outside the Subcontinent 

The previous chapters have outlined the assumptions underlying the linguistic evidence 
that is generally accepted as decisive in eliminating South Asia as a potential origin for 
the Indo-European languages and holding that the Indo-Aryan languages must have 
entered the subcontinent from the outside. The question has been raised regarding the 
extent to which the various linguistic methods are capable of determining whether the 
language flow of Indo-European immediately after the dissolution of the protolanguage 
was from north to south or south to north, or from west to east or vice versa. And the 
observation has been made that while the Vedic texts themselves can be used to dem¬ 
onstrate an escalating movement into the eastern and southern parts of India, they do 
not provide unambiguous evidence for a movement into the Northwest itself. 

The other major discipline that has been an indispensable part of the quest for the 
Indo-Europeans is, of course, archaeology. While Nichols’s linguistic model could be 
adopted or adapted somewhat to account for an Indo-European language spread from 
an eastern point of origin, there is no archaeological evidence that can be readily in¬ 
voked to substantiate it. Archaeologists have not found any outgoing material culture 
correlatable with the Indo-Europeans that can be traced as flowing from the east to the 
west in a chronologically and geographically acceptable fashion. Accordingly, the dis¬ 
cussion in this section must be restricted to examining the proposals of those schol¬ 
ars who have attempted to use the archaeological record to trace the incoming migra¬ 
tions of the Indo-Aryans. This limitation is not likely to escape the attention of the 
detractors of the Indigenous Aryan position: “The archaeological lack of evidence for 
inward migration often cited by proponents of the ‘Out-of-India’ hypothesis would 
have to be balanced with the lack of archaeological evidence for the presumably much 
more massive and prolonged outward migration required under this hypothesis" (Hock 
1999a 16). 


198 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Although it is debatable whether an outward migration would need to be much more 
massive than an inward one, the point holds good. Indeed, as we have seen, Nichols’s 
homeland was a priori subjected to this criticism before her thesis had even been pub¬ 
lished. A parallel archaeological lacuna has been one of the principal objections raised 
against the central Anatolian homeland. As Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1983a) themselves 
hasten to point out in anticipation of their detractors’ reactions: “It should be noted at 
the outset that the original area of distribution for die Proto-Indo-European language in 
the fourth-fifth millennia B.c. does not have an archaeological culture which might be 
identified in any explicit way with Proto-Indo-European” (35). As we have seen, Renfrew, 
(1987) an archaeologist defending more or less adjacent geographic contours as these 
linguists, does provide a material culture, but one in a significantly different temporal 
bracket. However, in so doing, he completely undermines the traditional criteria used 
in searching for the Indo-Europeans in the archaeological record. Since his Proto-Indo- 
European is a sedentary agriculturist to be traced paleobotanically via the spread of 
agriculture, he bypasses the traditionally almost exclusive focus on grave goods and pottery 
styles. This raises the first very obvious and rather crucial issue: What exactly is it that 
we are looking for in the archaeological record that might correspond to the speakers of 
an Indo-European language? This chapter will examine this issue from the perspective 
of the assumed overland routes of the Indo-Aryans on their way to the subcontinent. 

Identifying Aryans 

Nowadays all careful scholars begin their speculations regarding the linguistic identifi¬ 
cation of an archaeological culture with preambles stressing the need to be cautious 
about correlating material culture with linguistic groups. Lyonnet (1994), for example, 
notes that “it may be in vain to try and identify the Indo-Aryans,” since “language, eth¬ 
nic identity and culture are individual components that can be combined in many dif¬ 
ferent ways, and nothing allows us to state that, knowing language x and culture x, we 
are dealing with ethnic group x” (425). At least on a theoretical level (if not always in 
practice), it is by now universally acknowledged that one material culture may incorpo¬ 
rate more than one language group, and one language group may encompass more than 
one distinct material culture. The spread of a material culture, then, need not at all 
correspond to the spread of a language group, nor need a material innovation or devel¬ 
opment within a material culture reflect the intrusion of a new language group (although 
one can also certainly not categorically deny the possibility that it may in individual 

Moreover, postmodern theoretical considerations have not bypassed archaeology. 
Decisions regarding how to interpret the archaeological record are no longer seen as 
value-free and neutral: “It may be taken as a sign of the increasing theoretical maturity 
of the discipline of archaeology that it is beginning to see itself as a product of the forces 
of history. . . . there has been a shift from an internal understanding of archaeology as 
an objective and value-free practice towards a broader understanding that situates ar¬ 
chaeology in its social and political context” (Kristiansen 1996, 139). Of particular rel¬ 
evance to this chapter, the adoption of migrationism as an acceptable model to account 
for innovations in the archaeological record has enjoyed such a checkered history among 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 199 

archaeologists that theoreticians in the discipline have explored social contexts and 
psychological paradigms to explain its rise and fall. From the times and profound influ¬ 
ence of preeminent archaeologists such as Kossina and Childe, innovations in the ar¬ 
chaeological record have typically been interpreted as evidence of some kind of a migra¬ 
tion or intrusion of new peoples. Allowing some variations distinguishing Continental 
and American schools, this mode of interpretation remained in vogue until the 1960s, 
when an antimigrational mode of archaeological interpretation started to gain the up¬ 
per hand. This inturn remained dominant until the late 1980s, when migrationism 
again began to make something of a comeback in some quarters with appeals to not 
throw out “the baby with the bath water” (Anthony 1990, 895). 

The existence of such quasi-Foucaultian paradigm shifts prompted a recent publica¬ 
tion on the subject containing articles focusing more on the interpreters of archaeologi¬ 
cal data rather than on the data itself (Chapman and Hamerow 1997). Concerns fo¬ 
cused on “the intersection of the subjective, the inter-subjective and the objective insofar 
as it relates to the use and misuse of invasions and migrations to constitute explanatory 
models in 20th century prehistory” (Chapman 1997, 11). In his introduction to the 
volume, Chapman muses on the formative impression that the impact (or absence) of 
real-life modern migrations in the life experience of the archaeologist might have on his 
or her interpretations: 

There are several generations of archaeologists living in Europe whose life experiences 
bore the often devastating effects of invasions and migrations in two World Wars and 
their aftermaths. It is hard to resist the notion that these personal experiences did have 
an effect on the models of explanation which they proposed. ... It is not a coincidence, 

1 believe, that the “Retreat from Migrationism” arose precisely in countries not invaded 
in either world war—in Britain, America and parts of Scandinavia, ... I suggest . . . that 
the personal impact of migrations and invasions on archaeologists has been a factor much 
underestimated in past “explanation” of the changing modes of archaeological explana¬ 
tion. I would like to suggest that there is a yet largely untapped reservoir of information 
and insight about the writing of archaeological texts relating to the subjective experiences 
of scholars.” (18) 

Along the same lines, critics such as Champion (1990) and Megaw and Megaw (1992) 
have also noted that the fortunes of migrationism can be correlated with the prevailing 
political or intellectual milieu of the time. Anthony (1997), supporting the return of 
migrational modes of interpretation back into “semi-respectability” in the late 1980s, 
acknowledges that “the rise, fall and recovery of migration models is partly embedded 
in paradigm shifts in archaeological theory, with all the socio-political factors of aca¬ 
demic competition that are entailed.” He notes that it is no accident that migrations 
and invasions as forms of cultural change are again in vogue after two decades of ne¬ 
glect: “The insistent clamour of the homeless, the migrant and the refugee is rarely still 
and we cannot but face its consequences on an academic as well as a human level” (21). 

Nonetheless, with due precaution, it is the material culture of migrants that can pro¬ 
vide the only chance of physically identifying the Indo-Aryans who would otherwise 
simply remain an abstract linguistic entity. Even in terms of material culture, the pros¬ 
pects are restricted: physical anthropology, a method upon which Aryan seekers once 
pinned high hopes, is currently no longer deferred to by specialists, since skeletal re¬ 
mains “do not sort into ‘types’ along biological, linguistic or cultural lines.” Accord- 

200 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

ingly, “the quest for the elusive Aryans lies far outside the agenda of present-day skeletal 
biologists, who acknowledge the fall of the biological race concept in their discipline. 
Racial palaeontology went defunct in the middle part of this century.” This forces us to 
confront the crucial issue: “How could one recognize an Aryan, living or dead, when 
the biological criteria for Aryanness are non-existent?” (Kennedy 1995, 61). 1 What ex¬ 
actly is it that we are looking for in our quest to identify Indo-Aryans in the archaeologi¬ 
cal record? 

Our primary and only literary sources in this regard (in addition to the cultural traits 
assigned to the Indo-Europeans by comparative reconstructions) are the Veda and the 
Avesta. However, while Lyonnet (1994), for example, acknowledges that “both archae¬ 
ologists and linguists have made attempts to find (the Indo-Aryans and Iranians] in 
Central Asia on the basis of both the precisions of the Rgveda and the Avesta, and ar¬ 
chaeological data,” she echoes the opinion of most archaeologists that none of these 
attempts “are entirely satisfactory either chronologically, linguistically or archaeologically” 
(425). Nonetheless, she provides a list of material characteristics corresponding to a 
fairly typical version of the reconstructed material culture of the Aryans. Since this list 
still seems representative of the primary features archaeologists and historians have in 
mind when looking for telltale signs of the Indo-Aryans (Mallory 1989; Parpola 1994), 
it seems useful to reproduce it here. According to Lyonnet (1994, 425), the literary sources 
in the Rgveda provide the following information that could potentially be translated 
into hard evidence retrievable from the archaeological record: 

• The Aryans arc intruders, pastoralists also practicing agriculture; 

• The Aryans conquer the Dasas, the local wealthy dark-skinned population who live 
in or near a mountainous area, in forts that might be circular with a triple 
surrounding wall; this conquest is violent, implying destructions by fire, and 
involving an elite of warriors on horse-drawn chariots; 

• The Aryans practice the fire cult and the sacrifice of animals (among these is the 
horse sacrifice, very rare and highly prized) and even of human beings; 

• They encourage cremation; 

• They press soma.” 

From this list, the intrusiveness of the Aryans (which is not ostensibly evidenced in the 
texts, as I have noted) is the issue being debated and is not being accepted as a priori in 
this discussion. The rationale behind the skin color of the Dasas has been outlined in 
chapter 3 and can be legitimately ignored. Their residence in circular forts with triple 
walls is an interesting interpretational proposal by Parpola, but one that will be 
problematized later and need not compel us at this point. 

In terms of a picture that most scholars would accept, we are therefore left with an 
Indo-Aryan cultural group of pastoralists who practiced agriculture, contained an elite 
warrior group, used chariots, and knew the domesticated horse. Their religion was cen¬ 
tered on fire sacrifices, and they practiced cremation (as well as other burial practices). 
Obviously, such identification does not mean that all people who were pastoralists, or 
practiced agriculture, or had a martial elite who used chariots, or even practiced fire 
sacrifices were Indo-Aryans, since such characteristics were widespread in many cultures 
of the ancient world at various points in history, but they are typically accepted as cir¬ 
cumscribing the Indo-Aryan quest somewhat. And they are the best indicators to which 
we can lay reasonable claim. 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 201 

Several other assumptions need to he laid out clearly before proceeding any further. 
The first is temporal and will be critiqued fully in chapter 12. For the present purposes, 
I will simply outline the logic underlying the assignment of dates commonly accepted as 
corresponding to the Indo-European language dispersals from the unified Proto-Indo- 
European stock. I know of no objections to the terminus ante quem of Indo-Aryan as a 
separate linguistic entity. The Mittani treaties have been dated to about 1500 b.c.e. (as 
has the Rgveda for reasons that will be examined later). Since almost all authorities agree 
that the language of the treatise is specifically Indo-Aryan, then this language was distinct 
from other Indo-European languages, including Iranian, by this time at the latest. 

The terminus a quo for Proto-Indo-European as a unified entity is more problem¬ 
atic. For now, suffice it to say that many scholars have accepted the wheeled vehicle and 
related items as temporally most diagnostic (since the horse evidence has been subject 
to so many objections). The rationale here, briefly, is that the cognate terms for the 
wheeled vehicle indicate that this item was known to the undivided Indo-Europeans. 
Since the first evidence of wheeled vehicles in the archaeological record occurs at the 
turn of, and throughout, the fourth millennium b.c.e., the first assumption is that 
the wheel was therefore actually invented at around this time, and the second is that the 
dispersal of the various languages must have occurred after this point. The time frame 
involved in the development of the Indo-Aryans as a distinct entity, then, is generally 
accepted as being between 4000 and 1500 b.c.e. once other diagnostic items such as 
‘plows’, ‘yoke’, ‘wool’, and ‘silver’ are factored in using the same logic oudined above. 

Fiaving established a time frame of two and a half millennia or so, the next step for 
most archaeologists interested in this problem is to commit to a particular geographic 
route. Again, and at the risk of repetition, all of this would make much less sense with¬ 
out the a priori methodological imperative that “since Indo-Iranian languages are assumed 
(by linguists) to have been brought into South Asia by migrants, we must begin by examin¬ 
ing the archaeological record for evidence of migrations, and then justify the link be¬ 
tween these and the spread of the Indo-Iranian languages” (Erdosy 1995a, 9; my ital¬ 
ics). 1 hope the preceding chapters have given the reader a clearer idea of the various 
rationales underpinning these ‘linguistic assumptions’. Clearly, those who find the lin¬ 
guistic premises of the migration theory questionable are unlikely to be swayed by the 
archaeological details that are predicated upon such foundational linguistic assumptions. 
At the very least, those unconvinced by the linguistic evidence are likely to expect some 
reasonably compelling degree of archaeological evidence. 

We can immediately note that there is no more consensus regarding the identifica¬ 
tion of the Indo-Iranians in the archaeological record than regarding that of the Indo- 
Europeans in general. Moreover, until relatively recent work by primarily Russian ar¬ 
chaeologists, the identification of the Indo-Iranians has received much less scholarly 
attention than that of the western Indo-Europeans for reasons that should be obvious 
from chapter 1; once it had been determined that the homeland of the Indo-Europeans 
could not have stretched too far east of the Caspian Sea, the trajectory of the Indo-Iranians 
was, if not superfluous, then of secondary importance to most western scholars. None¬ 
theless, since all scholars, whatever position they might hold on the ultimate homeland 
of the Indo-Europeans, accept that the Indo-Aryans, at least, entered India from the 
West, almost all who have attempted to trace the itinerary of the Indo-Aryans do so by 
tracing the latter’s itinerary from the vicinity of some part of the Caspian Sea. 

202 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

There are two obvious routes to the Indian subcontinent from the Caspian Sea area: 
a northern route from the northeast of the Caspian Sea through the steppes of central 
Asia and down through Afghanistan and into India; and a southern route from the 
southeast of the Caspian Sea through die deserts and plains of northern Iran and into 
Afghanistan. The two routes have diametrically differing archaeological cultures. Both 
have been identified with the Indo-Aryans in a variety of ways by different scholars, and 
both have received extensive criticisms from promoters of different routes. The prin¬ 
cipal material involved will be examined in the following sections. I request the 
nonarchaeologists to bear with the sometimes tedious details of relevant archaeologi¬ 
cal minutiae, which have been minimized and simplified as far as possible; even a 
minimally comprehensive study of the Indo-Aryans must unavoidably plow through at 
least the basic archaeological material at stake. 

The Northern Route 
Vedic Burial and Funerary Practices 

The northern route is based primarily on the evidence of grave sites. These graves con¬ 
tain traces of material culture that are perceived as corresponding to items of Indo-Aryan 
culture as understood from Vedic texts. The first task, dren, is to glean any information 
pertaining to burials drat is available in these texts. Rgveda 7.89 speaks of going to the 
‘house of clay’ mrnmdyam grham (which has been correlated with the kurgan burials); 
10.18.10-13 also clearly speaks of burial in the earth. However, some scholars see signs 
of cremation a few hymns earlier (10.16.1-6) were Agni is requested not to fully con¬ 
sume the body but to send the deceased to the forefathers after he had been fully cooked. 

The Satapatha Brahmana (8.1.1 ff.) gives a variety of recomendations pertaining to 
the appropriate geographic location for burial (such as near waters dowing in a south¬ 
easterly direction). It prescribes the construction of tombs with four corners and the 
size of a man (leaving no room for another). For a Kshatriya, the sepulchral mound 
should be as high as a man with arms upstretched; for a Brahmana, it should reach up 
to the mouth; for a woman, up to the hips; for a Vaisya, up to the hips; and for a 
Shudra, up to the knee (having said all this, the text then states that one should radrer 
make the tomb so that it reaches below the knee, underlining die previous injunction 
that this would thereby leave no room for another—multiple burials seem to be clearly 
discouraged in this text). The text continues to say that some bank up the site after 
covering the mound. It is then enclosed by means of stones. Datta (1936), who has 
compiled all the references to burial practices in the earliest Vedic texts, notes that, in 
contrast to this description, the later Asvalayana Grhya Sutra describes how the body is 
burned, and the bones subsequently gathered and placed into lid-covered urns (with 
special markings for men but not for women), so cremation and urn burials seem to be 
practiced in this later period. 

Since the Agni hymn just mentioned is generally considered to be a later hymn, it is 
possible that burial was the older practice, which continued in later times along with 
crematory practices (although one must be wary of basing far-reaching conclusions on 
argumenti ex silentio ). One could therefore argue that burial practices characterized the 
Indo-Iranians and Indo-Aryans in the earlier part of their trajectory, and that the prac- 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 203 

tice of cremation developed as they neared the subcontinent. However, as Erdosy notes, 
cremations are rare in central Asia (being evidenced only in the cemeteries of southern 
Tajikistan), and, “on present evidence, cremations appear to have originated in the Indo- 
Iranian borderlands and spread northwest (and southeast) thence, against the postu¬ 
lated movements of Indo-Aryan speakers” (11). In short, Vedic burial practices leave us 
with too many possible options—burials, cremation, and postcremation urn burials—to 
be of much real use in identifying specific Aryan graves in the archaeological record to 
the exclusion of others. 

The Pit Grave (Jamna) Culture and Related Cultures 

I have already outlined how the Kurgan culture is particularly favored by some scholars, 
since the horse has been domesticated there since at least the fourth millennium b.c.e. 
by people practicing a pastoral economy. Wheeled carts are also known there since the 
third millennium B.C.E. I have noted Talageri’s (and the Russian linguists’) calling into 
question the assumption that the place of domestication of the horse must correspond 
to the original homeland of the Proto-Indo-Europeans; from their perspective, the horse 
could have been known to the undivided Proto-Indo-Europeans without they themselves 
being inhabitants of the locus of domestication, or personally being the domesticators. 
There has been a litany of objections to the Kurgan homeland theory, which have been 
touched upon throughout the previous chapters, but, as will be obvious by now, Indig¬ 
enous Aryanists are primarily interested in the history of the I ndo-Aryans; from their side, 
there have been very few critiques of the various homeland proposals of the pre-Indo- 
Aryan, undivided Proto-Indo-Europeans. 

Talageri, an exception in this regard, has examined Gimbutas’s Kurgan theory and 
rejected it using arguments similar to those of some of the scholars noted in chapter 1. 
He finds Gimbutas’s assignment of Indo-European attributes to archaeological artifacts— 
such as construing a figure with a mace in his hand as a male thunder god divinity—far 
too generalized and vague to be meaningful. He also objects that the items Gimbutas 
has promoted as reconstructable Proto-Indo-European—the use of copper, vehicles, boats, 
and so on—are actually shared by many Old World cultures that were not Indo-Euro- 
pean-speaking. He argues that the same could be said of some of the social and reli¬ 
gious features brought forward—male dominance, sun worship, and so forth. For the 
most part, however, Indigenous Aryanists are not particularly impressed or concerned 
with the homeland speculations of their Western colleagues or with the trajectories of 
the other Indo-European languages. It is the Indo-Aryans who are of concern to them, 
and it is with the evidence concerning this side of the language family that they are 
prepared to debate. 

In somewhat parallel fashion, apart from relatively recent work by Russian archae¬ 
ologists and one or two other notable exceptions (e.g., Parpola), Western scholars have 
traditionally paid very little attention to the archaeological traces of the Indo-Aryans, 
focusing primarily, and sometimes exclusively, on the origins of European civilization. 
In a recent edited collection of her articles, Gimbutas, who has otherwise written pro- 
lifically on the Indo-Europeans, makes barely a passing reference to the Indo-Aryans. 
Her only comment is that “the point of origin for the Old Indie people ... [is most 
probably] migrations of the so-called Tazabag’jab Bronze Age culture, kin to the proto- 

204 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

Scythian Andronovo and timber-grave culture of the Eurasian Steppes . . . around the 
15-14th centuries bc, the date which agrees with the destruction of the walled cities of 
the pre-Aryan civilization” (Gimbutas 1997, 14). Mallory (1975) notes that “archaeo¬ 
logical solutions to the IE problem. . .have involved considerable concern with the cul¬ 
tural development of central and eastern Europe, possibly at the expense of analyzing 
the problem in terms of also explaining the Indo-Iranian migrations where archaeologi¬ 
cal evidence is still quite scarce” (344). He does, however, dedicate an adequate section 
to this group in his 1989 book and in a recent article, which will be discussed later. 
Renfrew (1987), was torn between two hypotheses for India that are diametrically op¬ 
posed both temporally and culturally (A: a Neolithic agricultural incursion, which would 
make the Indus Valley Indo-Aryan; and B: the traditional Post-Harappan, Steppe inva¬ 
sion model); this simply underscores the problematic nature of identifying this language 
group in the archaeological record. (Since 1988, Renfrew has been in favor of the first 
of these options.) 

The northern route typically commences with the Kurgan culture. This culture was 
initially identified by Childe (1926), who believed that the south Russian steppes “cor¬ 
respond admirably to the character of the Aryan cradle as deduced by linguistic 
palaeontology. . . . The remains in question are derived almost exclusively from graves 
containing contracted skeletons . . . surmounted by a mound or kurgan” (183). More 
recently, Gimbutas has been the principal advocate of this position. This view has re¬ 
ceived plenty of criticisms, which were outlined in chapter 1 and can be encountered in 
the works of anyone promoting a different homeland. They need not detain us here, 
since our concern is specifically the Indo-Aryans. The Kurgan (Pit Grave) culture in the 
Pontic-Caspian steppe (3500-2800 b.c.e.) evolved into the Hut Grave culture (2800— 

The northern route. 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 2 05 

2000 b.c.e.), which in turn was succeeded by the Timber Grave (Srubnaya) culture (2000- 
800 b.c.e.) and the related Andronovo culture (1800-900 b.c.e.), which covered an 
enormous area from south of the Urals, across Kazakhstan, and into southern Siberia. 
(For a comprehensive classification and periodization of Androvo Cultural Sites see 
Kuzmina 1985.) The Andronovo culture is especially associated with the Iranians (or 
sometimes Indo-Iranians or Indo-Aryans) by Soviet archaeologists. 2 The identification 
is fortified by the fact that these cultures were the direct ancestors of the Iranian-speaking 
Scythians and Sakas in historical times and fit appropriately with Lyonnet’s criteria. 3 As 
is evident from the names of these steppe cultures, graves are used to inter the dead, 
and the various cultures are to a great extent characterized by distinctive burial arrange¬ 
ments. 4 A variety of pottery types found in the graves is also of relevance. 

Kuzmina (1994) narrows her criteria for identifying the Indo-Iranians down to one 
positive item (that of horse-drawn chariots) and two negative ones (they did not know 
temples, nor [following Rau 19741 the potter’s wheel). This last criterion requires that 
“one has to look for a culture with hand-made pottery” when attempting to locate the 
original Indo-Iranians (404). As for chariots, Kuzmina argues that the grave goods from 
the cemeteries of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture in the southern Urals—of which the 
Sintashta cemetery is most notable—and in northern and central Kazakhstan show 
the earliest remains of this technology. As I have discussed, a chariot with spoked 
wheels dated to about 1 700-1500 b.c.e. was found in the Sintashta cemetery, an early 
Andronovo burial in the Kazakh steppes of the southern Urals. This, coupled with a 
variety of weapons also found as grave goods, are associated with paraphernalia utilized 
by the Indo-Aryans (as evidenced by the Hurrian Mitanni texts on horsemanship and 
by the Rgveda). 

Anthony (1995a) notes that horses were often sacrificed in the mortuary rites of the 
Sintashta culture, which he attempts to correlate with a hymn from the Rgveda wherein 
a horse is offered to the gods. He especially draws attention to one burial that contained 
the corpse of a decapitated victim whose head had been replaced by that of a horse. He 
finds reason to connect the fate of this individual with the Dadhyanc myth in the Rgveda 
(1.116). In brief, Dadhyanc was given a horse’s head through which he could tell the 
Asvins about Soma and the beheading of the sacrifice. This horse’s head was then cut 
off by Indra and replaced with his own head. Aldiough, the context of this myth has 
nothing to do with burials or funeral rites, the attempt to correlate this story with the 
contents of a solitary grave does gives some indication of the paucity of evidence avail¬ 
able to archaeologists in the quest for the Indo-Aryans. In any event, Anthony (1998) 
suggests that the instance of this burial custom in the Andronov culture “might there¬ 
fore be seen as something more significant than just the spread of a new burial custom. 
It might well represent the adoption of a larger Indo-Iranian identity, a necessary part of 
which was the Indo-Iranian language” (108). 

One constantly finds archaeologists interpreting reliefs on seals or pottery, or even 
innocuous items of material culture, in terms of Vedic or Avestan religious narrative. 
Gening (1979), for example, also underscores the Indo-Iranian identification of the 
Sintashta graves, but, takes major liberties in assigning Vedic significance to the various 
features connected with the graves. As far as he is concerned, the fact that the horse 
skeletons found in the cemetery were always unharnessed reflects the unharnessed 
wanderings of the horse before the asvamedha-, the dog burials are related to motifs from 

206 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

the much later Mahabharata and to the dog Sarama, which helps Indra find the cattle; 
the remains of straw and posts covering the grave conjure up the barhis, or sacred straw 
covering the sacrificial spot. Klejn argues against an Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan identi¬ 
fication of the Andronov culture, but some of his correlations also display a question¬ 
able degree of interpretative liberty: the red-ocher powder covering the skeletons in the 
catacomb graves is connected with the red powder used in modern Indian weddings; 
the stone battle-ax found in many graves, with Indra’s vajra; stone pestle grave goods, 
with soma-pressing implements; the concave walls of the graves, with the Vedic vedi 
sacrificial altar. Clearly, if one is so inclined, any innocuous grave detail can be con¬ 
nected with something from the gamut of Sanskrit literature and interpreted as proof 
of the Indo-Aryans. 

According to Kuzmina, the fact that the essential equipment of the Indo-Aryan chari¬ 
oteers in the Mitanni kingdom and in India has no prototypes or analogies in either the 
Near East or Harappan India, but rather does show affinity with the items in the Sintashta- 
Petrovka burials mentioned earlier, “corroborates the hypothesis that locates the Indo- 
Iranian homeland on the Eurasian steppes between the Don and Kazakhstan in the 16th— 
17th centuries bc.” She adds, appropriately, that “to dispel all doubts we have only to 
find warrior burials similar to those of the steppes in Mitanni and in the northern parts 
of the Indian subcontinent” (Kuzmina 1994, 410). These have yet to be found. Where 
Kuzmina finds Andronovo archaeological prototypes for the inferred Indo-Aryan cul¬ 
tural equipment known by the Mitanni Syria in the Near East and the Vedic speakers 
in India, Klejn points out that no actual trace of dais Andronovo culture in the archae¬ 
ology of either of these-Indo-Aryan cultures in the Near East or India has come to light. 
Klejn’s critique of this Andronovo hypothesis raises important objections. While ac¬ 
knowledging the Iranian identification of the Andronovo culture, he finds it much too 
late for an Indo-Aryan identification, since the Andronovo culture “took shape in the 
16th or 17th century b.c, whereas the Aryans already appeared in the Near East not 
later than the 1 5th to 16th century B.c.” More important, “these [latter] regions contain 
nothing reminiscent of Timber-Frame Andronovo materials” (Klejn 1974, 58). This is 
an essential point, especially since, as we have seen, some scholars date the Indo-Aryan 
presence in the Near East to the 18th or 17th century b.c.e. How, then, could the Indo- 
Aryans have been represented in a completely different material culture in the steppes 
at more or less the same time? An Indo-Iranian affiliation of the graves is even more 
unrealistic, since the joint Indo-Iranian period would have been much earlier than the 
dates for the Andronovo period. Brentjes (1981), we can recall, pointed out the same 
objections with the Andronovo theory. 

As for India, as Lyonnet (1993) notes: “To this day no traces of such stock breeders 
have been detected south of the Hindukush” (82). This is the most serious, and obvi¬ 
ous, shortcoming of the Andronovo Indo-Aryan or Iranian identification. Francfort (1989) 
stresses this point: “Nothing allows us to dismiss the possibility that the Andronovians 
of Tazabagjab are the Indo-Iranians as much as the fact that they vanish on the fringes 
of sedentary Central Asia and do not appear as the ephemeral invaders of India at the 
feet of the Hindu Kush” (453). A later Iranian affiliation of the Andronovo culture is 
sometimes suggested, although, even here, Bosch-Gimpera (1973) objects that “there is 
nothing in Iran in the second millennium that is related to Andronovo, something which 
one would expect if the cradle of the Indo-Iranians were to be found in this territory” 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 207 

(515). Such Archaeologists of the region are quite specific that “the notion of nomads 
from the north as the original Iranians is unsupported by the detailed archaeological 
sequence available” (Hiebert 1998, 153). As far as Sarianidi (1993b) is concerned, the 
Andronovo tribes “penetrated to a minimum extent. . . not exceeding the limits of normal 
contacts so natural for tribes with different economical structures, living in the border¬ 
lands of steppes and agricultural oases” (17).’ 

Beshkent and Vakhsh Culture 

The Beshkent and Vakhsh culture, in southern Tajikistan, known so far only by its 
cemeteries, has also been related to the Indo-lranians: “In the Beshkent cemeteries we 
have cremation rites; ritual hearths were built in the graves; and swastikas were used in 
marking the site. In the Vakhsh cemeteries funeral pyres were lit around the grave of a 
leader. A number of beliefs and cult practices that can be reconstructed from the mate¬ 
rials found in the Vakhsh cemeteries recall common Indo-European rites and beliefs or 
specifically Indo-Iranian ones” (Litvinsky et al. 394). With these hearths we again find 
hasty correlations with later Vedic characteristics: “The sacred fires of India hold the 
key. . . . the existence of round and square hearths-altars in ancient India ... is identi¬ 
cal with the phenomenon we find at the sites in the West Pamirs” (Babayev 1989, 93). 
Yet the Indian hearths being referred to are the garhapatya and daksina fires, which are 
performed in sacrificial contexts that have nothing to do with burials. 

The primary characteristics of the cemeteries is that they are of the kurgan type, typi¬ 
cal of the steppe people. The pottery, on the other hand, is comparable with the ware 
produced by the sedentary agriculturists of northern Afghanistan. Litvinsky and P’yankova 
interpret these two influences as a fusion of cultures between southern sedentary agri¬ 
culturists from Bactria and Indo-Iranian steppe pastoralists from an Andronovo proto¬ 
type. They find reason to consider them to be proto-Iranians (following an earlier Indo- 
Aryan wave) sweeping eastward from sites like Namazga VI in southeastern Turkmenistan, 
who pushed up into the valleys of southern Tajikistan, where they adopted burial rites 
and certain economic systems from die more northern Andronovo steppe cultures. (See 
also Piankova 1982 for an analysis of the Tajikistan culture.) Other scholars, such as 
Vinogradova (1993), primarily stress the Andronovo proto-forms for the graves. The 
original excavator of the site, Mandel’shtam, and more recent scholars such as Klejn 
(1984), have considered these graves to be of Indo-Aryans but unconnected to the 
Andronovo culture. 

Like all other archaeological cultures, there is no unanimity concerning the Indo- 
Iranian or Indo-Aryan ethnic identification of these burials either. Lyonnet wonders 
why, if they had been Indo-Aryans who had provoked or appeared at the time of the 
collapse of the Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), Namazga, and 
Harappan civilizations, they did not continue to foster the links between these regions, 
which had previously been connected for millennia. Rather, these connections collapse 
at this time (Lyonnet 1993, 83). She underscores the extreme paucity of metal objects 
found in the graves, which “is rather odd for a culture considered to come from the 
Andronovo people, famous for their metallurgy” (Lyonnet 1994a, 430). Moreover, “no 
trace of the horse is found, there is no evidence of any social differentiation, and, alto¬ 
gether, the material is rather poor” (430). As far as she is concerned, “if we are dealing 

208 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

with intruders, as some features suggest, and if it is certain that they are not Andronovians, 
we do not have enough evidence to identify them as Indo-Aryans. We can only com¬ 
pare their movement to the textually known much later migrations of two other groups, 
who, coming from ‘the steppes,’ went through Central Asia into India.” These are the 
Kusanas around the beginning of our era, and the White Huns in the fifth century 
A.D.: “All these nomads, albeit at different periods, took exactly the same path, used 
exactly the same areas for their cemeteries consisting of kurgans that all look alike from 
the outside” (430). 

Tribes that bury their dead in kurgans (which are so common over vast geographic 
and temporal expanses) have been migrating into India throughout its history, but 
these have not induced language shift across the entire north of the subcontinent. So 
one is hardly compelled to interpret the scanty evidence of the Bishkent and Vakhsh 
cultures as evidence of the arrival of a new language group on its way to Indo-Aryanize 
North India. Like the Andronovo culture, this culture does not enter the subconti¬ 
nent either. Moreover, Piankova (1982) dates the graves to the last quarter of the second 
millennium, which is far too late for migrants who are supposed to already have com¬ 
pletely settled down and written the hymns in the Indian subcontinent by this time, 
even allowing the lowest possible dates proposed by scholars for the Rgveda. More¬ 
over, anyone prepared to gloss over the absence of horse bones in these sites cannot 
then deny the presence of the Indo-Aryans in the Indus Valley Civilization on these 
particular grounds. 

The Southern Route 

On the grounds of such objections, the correlation of the Indo-Aryans with the Andronovo 
culture has been rejected by a number of scholars who prefer to opt for a southern route. 
Bosch-Gimpera (1973) notes that “it would seem more likely that we should seek for the 
antecedents of the Indo-Iranians by tracing their subsequent migration into Iran by way 
of the Caucasus, not across the Oxus” (51 5). 6 He interprets various artifacts found in the 
Indus Valley (such as the copper weapons and other items that will be discussed later) as 
indicative of “an immigration of people into India with a culture related to northern 
Anatolia, the Caucasus and possibly even to Mesopotamia” (517). 

This southern route, across the Gorgan Plain in southern Turkmenistan and north¬ 
eastern Iran, is littered by the sites of sophisticated urban centers. It has long been rec¬ 
ognized that many of these sites, such as Tepe Hissar III, seem to have been abandoned 
roughly at the same time after a period of urban florescence. 7 According to Kohl (1984), 
it is debatable “whether or not the collapses were due to the cessation of overland long¬ 
distance trade or, say, to the incursions of steppe nomads from the north or to some 
other unspecified cause” (226-227). The possibility of an invasion of these sites by Indo- 
Iranian steppe nomads from the northern steppe route was previously accepted by most 
scholars and is still entertained by some: “A widespread destruction of the north Ira¬ 
nian sites such as Tepe Hissar I1IB coupled with the equally widespread lack of ar¬ 
chaeological evidence of the early second millennium B.c. . . . are often associated with 
peoples variously designated as the Indo-Iranians, Aryans or proto-Indic Peoples” (Tho¬ 
mas 1992, 20; see also Dyson 1968; Masson 364b 1992). However, this interpretation 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 209 

The southern route. 

is falling into disfavor among a number of archaeologists of this area, since “there is no 
documentary evidence of steppe cultures invading agricultural oases. . . . Archaeological 
data was found but failed to convince. More or less intensive contacts were an established 
fact, but . . . archaeological diggings testily to the fact that various influences, including 
mass migrations, moved only from south-west to north-east” (Khlopin 1989, 75-76). 8 
Hlopina (1972) noted that “tire excavations of the Bronze Age sites show no trace of de¬ 
struction,” and that “it may well be that... we shall have to abandon the hypothesis that, 
at the end of the 2nd millennium before our era, the agricultural sites in these areas were 
subjected to the influence of the livestock-raising tribes of the steppes and their cultures, 
and that this is why these sites entered on a period of tangible decadence” (213). 

A substantial body of scholars consider these urban cultures themselves to have been 
Indo-Iranian in some form or fashion, rather than being invaded by Indo-Iranian steppe 
nomads from the north. Roman Ghirshman (1977) has been a particularly influential 
proponent of the Indo-Aryan nature of the southern route. As far as he is concerned, 
the culture of the Andronovo tribes has no semblance whatsoever with that of the Indo- 
Aryans. In contrast, Ghirshman builds up a case on the Grayware found in sites such 
as Tepe Hissar III in the Gorgan Plain of northern Iran, which “is different from every¬ 
thing we know in Iran, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor” (12). But he does find connec¬ 
tions between this and the innovative black ceramics of the Mitanni kingdom (8). The 
discovery of a seal in Tepe Hissar III containing a motif of a horse-drawn chariot and 
of possibly horse-controlling trumpets reinforces this region’s connection with the horse- 
and-chariot-using Mitanni Indo-Aryans. 9 All this, for Ghirshman, points to the arrival 
of Indo-Aryans in the Iranian plain of Gorgan. 

In this version of events, the Indo-Aryans of the Gorgan Valley, under pressure from 
nomadic invasions from the north (by the very people whom some other archaeologists 

210 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

consider to be the same Indo-Aryans!), fled their homes. Ghirshman’s evidence for this 
assertion is the identification of houses burned by fire and the existence of arrowheads. 
One group headed south toward Syria to become the Mitanni of Syria. Another branch 
proceeded farther east; evidence of their journey is inferred from the appearance of black 
pottery along the Kopet Dagh chain in sites such as Namazga IV, where it appears in 
distinction to the pottery preceding it. 10 In time, the Indo-Aryans were expelled from 
Namazga IV, too, by the same nomadic steppe tribes, and proceeded east. Ghirshman 
(1977) tries to find further evidence of the Indo-Aryans in the Balkh region of Afghani¬ 
stan but is forced to account for the different, clear-colored pottery found there as “in¬ 
dicating a change of taste” (40). 

Scholars arguing for an Indo-Aryan element in southern sites take the same interpre¬ 
tative liberties as those interpreting grave goods in the northern steppes to support their 
case. Kurochkin, for example, sees an Aryan presence in a pestle and mortar wirh a 
spout found in the royal cemetery of Marlik in northern Iran, which he compares with 
a Siva linga. It should go without saying that upholders of an Aryan migration theory 
generally consider the Siva lihgam to be a pre-Indo-Aryan icon from India, which would 
have no connection with any hypothetical Indo-Aryans in northern Iran. 

As with the northern route, there is no dearth of criticisms that have been levied 
against such a southern route. 11 One objection points out that “the similarity is not 
very close” between the Mitanni pottery and that of the Gorgan plain (Parpola 1994, 
148). Deshayes (1969) notes that “the grey ware did not at that date spread beyond the 
limits of the plain of Gorgan” (13). Others object that even within the spread of this 
ware, the Mitanni were not the only language group present; there were non-Indo-Euro- 
pean language groups such as the Lullubu, Guti, and Hurrians (Kuzmina 1993, 403). 
Grantovsky (1981) complains that the gtayware can be traced back to the fourth millen¬ 
nium b.c.e. and is therefore too early for the Indo-Iranians. He also notes that the Indo- 
Aryans are considered to be pastoralists and therefore cannot be connected with the 
southern urban sites, with their agricultural base. Kuzmina (1981) draws attention to 
the lack of horse bones in southern central Asia and Iran, which corresponds poorly 
with horse-using Indo-Aryans. 

Cleuziou expresses frustration that the appearance of the grayware is typically accepted 
as heralding Indo-European invaders (with some scholars promoting an eastern move¬ 
ment, others a western movement, and still others a movement in both directions), and 
then its disappearance is also considered to be due to Indo-European invaders! He ech¬ 
oes objections to such reconstructions that are by now quite standard: “Migrationists 
consider that movement of people is responsible for the movement of pottery assem¬ 
blages, and they think that it suffices to demonstrate that potteries have moved to dem¬ 
onstrate the migrations” (Cleziou 1986, 244). He notes that no one has yet come up 
with an archaeological origin for these hypothetical Grayware people. This “remains a 
challenge for the advocates of the migratory hypothesis” and prohibits confirmation of 
“the hypothetical reconstructions of philologists” (232-233). As far as he is concerned, 
“No migration from outside is necessary to explain its [the grayware’sj development in 
the Southeast Caspian area, and since it is the necessity of such a migration which is the 
ultimate argument of its advocates, this can no more be regarded as conclusive” (236; 
italics in original). 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 211 

Here, Cleuziou has articulated die main point that 1 am attempting to underscore in 
this chapter. It is the verdict of linguistics that is compelling archaeologists to interpret 
practically every innovation in the archaeological record between the Caspian Sea and 
India as possible evidence of Indo-Iranians. As far as Cleuziou is concerned, the spread 
of Indo-European “is a philological concept and we entrust the philologists to discuss 
about its relevance” (245). As far as the archaeology of the southeastern Caspian area is 
concerned, one could just as well argue that “local evolution led to a regression of ur¬ 
ban centered settlements and of settled agriculture, probably with an extension of pas¬ 
toral economy, and the early Iron Age represents a renewal of settled agriculture with 
re-occupation of some areas.” There is no need to postulate the intrusion of foreign 
tribes: “Whoever were the people concerned is not of interest here, as archaeology will 
probably never tell it” (244). Moreover, and equally relevant, it is important to again 
stress that “interaction between nomads and sedentaries does not imply different people 
(nor different languages)” (247). I will return to this shortly. 

Those who do find reason to connect the trajectories of pottery with that of the Indo- 
Aryans need to address one line of argument that will disqualify the Indo-Aryans from 
having any connection with wheel-made pottery at all. Wilhelm Rau has compiled the 
Vedic references to pottery from the oldest strands of the Black Yajurveda and found 
that although the potter’s wheel was known, it was hand made pottery that was pre¬ 
scribed for the ritual sphere. This suggests to him that “the more primitive technique 
persisted in the ritual sphere while in secular life more advanced methods of potting 
had already been adopted.” Should this assumption be correct, “we can pin down the 
transition from hand-made to wheel-thrown pottery, as far as the Aryans are concerned, 
(down) to the earlier phases of Vedic times” (Rau 1974, 141 ). 12 Of relevance to this line 
of argument is a verse from the Taittirlya Sarhhita (4, 5, 4), stating that what is turned 
on the wheel is A suric and what is made without the wheel is godly (e.g., Kuzmina 
1983, 21). According to Rau’s philological investigations, the characteristic of this old¬ 
est pottery was that it was made of clay mixed with various materials, some of them 
organic, resulting in porous pots. These pots were poorly-fired and ranged in size from 
about 0.24 m to 1.0 m in diameter at the opening and from 0.24 m to 0.40 m in height. 
Furthermore, they showed a lack of plastic decoration and were unpainted (Rau 1974, 
142). Of further relevance is the fact that firing was accomplished by the covered baking 
method between two layers of raw bricks in a simple open pit. In later times this was 
done with materials producing red color. Rau advises excavators to be “on the lookout 
for ceramics of this description among their finds” (142). 

Kuzmina (1983), at least, has taken this advice seriously. As far as she is concerned, 
“all . . . evidence as to the character of the pottery produced in Asia Minor and Central 
Asia in the third and second millennium b.c. categorically rules out searching for the 
proto-home of the Vedic Aryans throughout [this] entire stretch” (23). According to her, 
then, the southern route is ruled out. In contrast, she holds that on many essential 
points Andronovo pottery techniques are absolutely similar to those practiced by the 
Vedic Aryans (as reconstructed by Rau): “Ceramic finds trace the gradual infiltration of 
the farming oases of Marghiana and Bactria by the late-Andronovo tribes and their 
emergence on the mountain passes leading into the Indian subcontinent, which may 
provide the clue to the problem of the origin of the Aryans” (24-27). Kuzmina is forced 

212 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

to concede, however, that “in the Andronovo culture it was mainly the womenfolk who 
engaged in the making of pottery. ... in the case of the Vedic Aryans it was the male 
paterfamilias.” 13 Moreover, “The second major distinction is the richness of the im¬ 
pressed decoration of the Andronovo pottery, whose geometrical designs include tri¬ 
angle, meander, swastika, lozenge and herringbone” (26). Vedic pottery is supposed to 
be plain. Neither southern nor northern routes, then, have fully fulfilled Rau's Vedic 
pottery criteria. 

Sarianidi (1993c), another prominent adherent to a southern route, agrees with 
Ghirshman on the basic thesis that the Aryan tribes “should not be derived from the 
pastoral tribes of the Andronovo culture of the vast Asian steppes but—on the contrary— 
from the highly developed Near Eastern centres” (256). While disagreeing with Ghirshman 
about the grayware pottery/Indo-Aryan correlation, Sarianidi accepts the difference between 
Hissar III and previous levels at that site. He further notes the commonalties between 
Hissar III and the BMAC, which he considers evidence of the presence of Indo-Irani- 
ans migrating into northern Afghanistan from Iran. Sarianidi is sympathetic to an ulti¬ 
mate Near Eastern Proto-Indo-European homeland as argued by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov. 
As far as he (1997) is concerned, “it may be considered proved that the peopling of the 
Bactrian Plain was the result of the arrival of tribes from the West” (644). 14 However, 
this westerly origin for the BMAC, previously accepted by scholars (i.e., e.g. Kohl 1981), 
is presently under reconsideration by scholars such as Hiebert (1995, 200). 

The Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex 

The BMAC culture, which has been dated to the turn of the third to second millen¬ 
nium b.c.e ., 15 was excavated initially by Sarianidi and his colleagues and more recently 
by Fredrik Hiebert. Sarianidi (1993a) considers the whole BMAC complex to have been 
specifically Indo-Atyan partly due to the discovery there of seals bearing religious motifs 
similar to those found in northern Syria during the time of the Indo-Aryan Mitanni 
kingdom. This identification is reinforced by other objects common to the two areas— 
miniature stone piles and ritual vessels—and the discovery of axes with horse heads found 
in some of the BMAC graves. 

More dramatically, perhaps, in the BMAC site called Dashly-3, Sarianidi (1977) found 
ash pits raised on brick platforms in a circular “temple." Also reported from Dashly-3 
is “the occurrence of a shrine inside the fortress with an altar against the wall [which] 
validates a suggestion that this was a ceremonial centre, probably a temple with numer¬ 
ous services, repositories, granaries, dwelling-houses for priests and auxiliary person¬ 
nel” (Tosi et al, Shahmirzadi and Joyenda 1992 220). In addition, in the southeastern 
Kara Kum desert, other sites on the western limits of the BMAC culture that have been 
labeled-“temple-forts” (Parpola 1995) or “ceremonial centres” (Jettmar 1981) have been 
found. Most striking of these are the sites of Togolok-21 and Gonur-1, where the exca¬ 
vator reported a variety of “altars,” two of which showed signs of the hallucinogenic 
ephedra when subjected to microscopic analysis (Sarianidi 1990, 1993b, c). Poppy pol¬ 
len was also identified on pestles and grinding stones of the site. 

Opposite these “altars” were “fire altars,” or, perhaps more accurately, rooms that 
shewed the effects of fire. Summing up the archaeological evidence, Sarianidi (1930c) 
concludes, “It can be said with a high degree of certainty that Togolok-21 must have 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 213 

The BMAC (Bactria Margiana Archaeological Culture). 

been a temple connected in some or other way with a religious cult during which ven¬ 
erations of the sacred fire and libations took place” (252). Chemical analysis performed 
upon vessels discovered in a similar site at Gonur determined that the vessels had con¬ 
tained cannabis, ephedra, and poppy. Also of relevance at this site was the discovery of 
ceramic stands and sieves “by means of which the juice was divided from the solid pressed- 
out mass” (252). If one is to follow, for example, Nyberg (1995), then ephedra is the 
most likely candidate for the soma/hoama cult of the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians. This 
is certainly the connection that Sarianidi makes. In short, he holds that “the Vedic Aryans 
were part of the BMAC tribes whose culture replaced the Harappan” (1993c, 263). Nyberg 
(1995), however, subjected the samples from these sites to pollen analysis at the Uni¬ 
versity of Helsinki but could not find any trace of ephedra (although Sarianidi, 1999, 
has questioned this analysis). 

While all this is well and good, attention must be drawn to the fact that the BMAC 
was a sophisticated civilization consisting of fortified towns. The temple structures just 
noted were “monumental”; the Gonur temple occupies an area of two hectares (from a 
total area of twenty-two hectares) and was surrounded by walls up to four meters thick 
(Sarianidi 1993b, 8). Indeed, according to later excavators of BMAC sites: 

The extensive distribution of the BMAC, together with the recognition of the consider¬ 
able size of their cities . . . and die monumental nature of single architectural units, . . . 
combine to suggest that we are dealing here with a socio-political phenomenon of consid¬ 
erable magnitude . . . that involved a substantial region of Middle Asia. ... It is our 
belief that the BMAC, if not itself a state, appears to mirror a facsimile of state-structured 
polity of power. The 15 km. distance from Gonur to Togolok in Margiana is no greater 
than the distance which separated Lagash from Girsu in Mesopotamia. Nor is there a 
great difference in the relative size of these respective cities. The latter are taken, without 

214 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

qualification, to be important “city-states” within Mesopotamia. (Hiebert and Lamberg- 

Karlovsky 1992, 11) 

As discussed in the last chapter, scholars since the time of Sir John Marshall have dis¬ 
allowed the possibility of an Indo-Aryan presence in the Indus Valley by insisting that 
the social horizon of the Rgveda knows no urban settings and is purely pastoral. Rau’s 
depiction of the Vedic pur is one of wattle huts. 1 will question later whether this posi¬ 
tion is tenable based on the fact that settlements and towns continued to exist in the 
post-Harappan period, albeit shifting from the Harappan nucleus, at a time when no 
one can doubt that the Indo-Aryans were very much situated in the region. Lack of 
urban references in the Rgveda may not be a reliable indicator of the Indo-Aryan’s igno¬ 
rance of urban centers. 

The same logic is applicable here. If the DMAC culture was Indo-Aryan, then the 
Indo-Aryans certainly knew and lived in (and, according to some scholars, established) 
urban centers in a state-like context. Anyone accepting the Indo-Aryan identity of the 
BMAC (or any of die sites on the southern routes) cannot dien deny the possibility of the 
Indus Valley Civilization possibly being an Indo-Aryan civilization on diese particular 
grounds, namely, the apparent lack of urban references in the Rgveda. Even if it is argued 
that the Indo-Aryans were not the founders of this civilization, but arrived toward the end 
of the Bactria and Margiana cultural complex (drey were initially held to have destroyed it 
until it was realized that no traces of destruction have been found), they nonetheless 
must surely have passed dirough this whole area on their way to India and so must 
have been aware of, and interacted with, such towns. Accordingly, it becomes very hard 
to deny the possible residence of the Indo-Aryans in, or coexistence with, urban centers. 

Also of relevance to the last chapter (where we found that the principal reason given 
for the non-Indo-Aryan identity of the Indus Valley is the absence of horse bones there) 
is the fact that although the horse was certainly utilized in the BMAC, as attested by its 
representation on grave goods, no horse bones have been discovered there (despite the 
fact that an unusually high number of animal bones have been found). So we have 
proof of horse, but no horse bones. Absence of horse bones, then, may not equal ab¬ 
sence of horses, nor necessarily of Indo-Aryans. A final related point is that the Vedas 
make no mention of temples, or temple structures. What are we to make of “ceremo¬ 
nial centers” of the sites of Togolok-21 and Gonur-1 discovered in the same BMAC 
where we have fire worship and the ritual usage of hallucinogens in a templelike set¬ 
ting? Any acceptance that all this was the handiwork of Indo-Aryans will entail aban¬ 
doning certain stereotypes such as that the Indo-Aryans knew no urban centers or temples 
and that the failure of archaeologists to uncover horse bones equals the real-life absence 
of horses in a society. 

Hiebert and Lamberg-Karlovsky disagree with Sarianidi concerning the external ori¬ 
gin (from southeastern Iran) of the BMAC, preferring to consider it “the development 
of a new type of social structure within an ongoing culture, rather than migration or 
invasion” (Hiebert 1995, 200). This position has been accepted by Tosi (1988), albeit 
in conjunction with a “massive immigration of external elements” (62). Hiebert and 
Lamberg-Karlovsky note that there is no site in southeastern Iran providing any evi¬ 
dence for such a claim, and that any BMAC material found on sites from that area is 
intrusive in nature. In other words, if there is a movement, it is from east to west. These 

Archaeological Evidence autude the Subcontinent 2 1 5 

scholars are prepared to consider, however, that the BMAC culture is Indo-Aryan. Of 
particular relevance is the intrusion of burial assemblages with artifacts typical of die BMAC 
culture into the Iranian plateau and the western borders of the Indus Valley in the sites 
of Mehrgarh VII and Sibri in Baluchistan, which “may be correlated with the introduc¬ 
tion of the Indo-European language” (Hiebert and Lamberg-Karlovsky 1992, l). 

While acknowledging that “we must distinguish between the movement of peoples 
from the movement of objects and/or styles by exchange and/or stimulus diffusion,” 
these scholars are of the opinion that the “evidence suggests that the people buried in 
the tombs, with an exclusively Central Asian [BMAC] material inventory, came from 
Central Asia” (Hiebert and Lamberg-Karlovsky 1992, 3). However, they also note that 
the tombs with such exclusive material are “rare." Nonetheless, here we do seem to 
have the first evidence of an archaeological intrusion into the subcontinent from Cen¬ 
tral Asia during the commonly accepted time frame for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans: 
“Since the BMAC is clearly intrusive on the Iranian Plateau and in the hill country of 
Baluchistan, we suggest that the BMAC provides the first archaeological evidence that 
meets both the chronological and historical requirements for the introduction of the 
Indo-Iranian language onto the Iranian Plateau” (10). Kohl (1984) likewise accepts 
“the possibility of a movement of peoples to the south, possibly displaced by steppe 
and mounted nomads from further north” (242). Other scholars have also correlated 
the apparent intrusiveness of these graves with the lndo-Aryans (Parpola 1994, 147;' 
Allchin 1995, 47). Scholars also point to the similar pottery sherds found in nearby 
Nausharo, connecting this site with Mehrgarh VIII and Sibri, as further evidence of 
such incursions. 

The Mehrgarh and Sibri cemeteries, excavated by Jean-Francois Jarrige, yielded “abun¬ 
dant material presenting obvious parallels with East Iran (Shahdad), Northwest Afghani¬ 
stan (Dashly) southern Uzbekistan (Sappali) and the Murghab region” (Jarrige and 
Hassan, 1985, 150). Ceramic objects and an amulet also “indicate some degree of 
contemporaneity and interaction between the Mehrgarh VH/Sibri complex and the Indus 
civilization” (150). There is debate regarding the origin of these finds. Lamberg-Karlovsky 
(1993) points to two possibilities—“The movement of peoples from Central Asia . . . or, 
in the absence of such a migration, the presence of strong culmral influences uniting 
these two areas” (35)—but favors the former hypothesis. However, Jarrige (1989), the 
excavator of the site, is less inclined to see these finds as evidence of population move¬ 
ments: “The evidence of a formative period of the cultural complex of Mehrgarh VIII/ 
Sibri at Nausharo . . . cannot be interpreted in term of invasions from the north-west to 
the south-east but within the framework of fruitful intercourse at a time when Mohenjo- 
daro is still an active city” (67). Moreover, there is no evidence of the horse at Sibri 
(Santoni 1985), which scholars have long insisted must accompany any proposed Indo- 
Aryan identification. 

Along the same lines, the antiquities discovered at Quetta in 1985, which are also 
sometimes connected with intruding Indo-Aryans (i.e., e.g. Allchin 1995), can also sim¬ 
ply be viewed as reflecting ’’the economic dynamism of the area extending from South 
Central Asia to the Indus Valley.” The fact that similar objects are also found in graves 
and deposits in northern Iran, eastern Iran, northwestern Afghanistan, South Turkmenia, 
and Baluchistan might simply indicate “a wide distribution of common beliefs and ritual 
practices” ( Jarrige and Hassan (1985) 1989, 162-163). Jarrige and Hassan reject the 

216 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

idea that these finds were associated with invaders related to the Hissar Ill C complex, 
since “there is nothing in the Gorgan Plain and at Hissar to prove that northern Iran 
has been a relay station for invading people. The . . . grey ware can very well be ex¬ 
plained within its local context” (163-164). Nor are these scholars partial to the north¬ 
ern steppe Andronov alternatives, since: 

We leave to the linguists the problem of whether Indo-European languages were introduced 
into the Middle Asian regions from a still unknown part of the Eurasian steppes in the 
course of the third millennium or if Indo-lranian languages have been associated with 
these regions for a much longer period. As far as archaeology is concerned, we do think 
that it is increasingly necessary for specialists in Indo-lranian studies to pay attention to 
the . . . interrelated cultural entities of the late third and early second millennium in the 
regions between Mesopotamia and the Indus. It is a direction of research that is likely to 
be more fruitful than are traditional attempts to locate remains left by nomads from “the 
Steppes,” attempts that were in fashion when the Indo-lranian Borderlands were thought 
to be a cultural vacuum. (164; my italics) 

Despite inviting linguists to reconsider the northern steppe hypothesis in favor of the 
southern route, it can be inferred from Jarrige and Hassan, as from the work of a num¬ 
ber of archaeologists considering the problem of Indo-Aryan origins, that the Indo-Aryan- 
locating project exists solely due to linguistic exigencies: 

The development of original but closely interrelated cultural units at the end of the third 
and the beginning of the second millennium cannot be explained just by the wandering 
of a single group of invaders. The processes were obviously multidirectional in regions 
with strong and ancient cultural traditions. This does not preclude the fact that move¬ 
ment of population and military expeditions . . . may have played an important historical 
part but, as far as archaeology is concerned, there is nothing to substantiate a simplistic 
model of invasion to account for the complex economic and cultural phenomena mani¬ 
fest at the end of the third millennium in the regions between Mesopotamia and the 
Indus Valley. (164) 

Nonetheless, those who do find the aforementioned linguistic exigencies compelling 
must find some way of getting the Indo-Aryans speakers into the subcontinent by some 
means or another. Mallory (1998) feels comfortable enough ascribing some form of Indo- 
lranian identity to the Andronovo culture but admits that, “on the other hand, we find 
it extraordinarily difficult to make a case for expansions from this northern region to 
northern India . . . where we would presume Indo-Aryans had settled by the mid-sec¬ 
ond millennium bce” (191). Referring to the attempts at connecting the Indo-Aryans to 
such sites as the Bishkent and Vakhsh cultures, he remarks that “this type of explana¬ 
tion only gets the Indo-lranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, 
Persians or Indo-Aryans” (192). He points out that suggesting an Indo-Aryan identity 
for the BMAC requires a presumption that this culture was dominated by steppe tribes. 
However, “while there is no doubt that there was a steppe presence on BMAC sites, 
. . . this is very far from demonstrating the adoption of an Indo-lranian language by the 
Central Asia urban population” (192), 

Mallory (1998) offers a Kulturkugel (culture bullet) as a possible explanatory model 
for the Indo-Aryan incursions, although remarking that “German is employed here 
to enhance the respectability of an already shaky model” (192). This conceptual pro- 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 217 

jectile is envisioned as an Indo-Iranian linguistic bullet propelled by the social orga¬ 
nization of the steppes outlined previously and tipped with a nose of malleable 
Andronovo material culture. After impacting the BMAC culture, the projectile con¬ 
tinues on its trajectory, but now as an Indo-Aryan linguistic bullet with a BMAC cultural 
tip. In other words, the steppe tribes entered the BMAC, shed the trappings of their 
Andronovo heritage, and then, reacculturated, continued on their way toward India 
after having adopted the cultural baggage of the BMAC and undergone the linguistic 
transformations separating the language of the Indo-Iranians from that of the Indo- 
Aryans. Mallory is too good of a scholar nor to immediately include an addendum, 
stating that “the introduction of the kulturkugel emphasizes the tendentious nature of 
any arguements for the dispersals of the Indo-Iranians into their historic seats south 
of Central Asia” (193). He is also candid enough to point out that “it is . . . difficult 
to imagine how such a concept could be verified in the archaeological record or, to 
continue the metaphor, could be traced back to the original ‘smoking gun’” (194). 
Mallory’s Kulturkugel is the type of gymnastics incumbent on anyone atempting to 
find archaeological evidence of the Indo-Aryans all the way across Asia and into the 

Two Wave Theories 

The idea of a two-wave (or multiple-wave) incursion into India has been suggested sev¬ 
eral times by linguists for over a century and has entered the realm of archaeology more 
recently through the work of Asko Parpola. Hoernle (1880) laid the genesis of the idea 
in 1880 based primarily on the phonemic and morphological features that distinguished 
the New Indo-Aryan languages into two main groups, which he termed the “Sauraseni 
Prakrit tongue” (Sr. Pr.) and the “Magadhi Prakrit tongue” (Mg. Pr.). From a historical 
perspective, he envisioned this situation coming about as follows: “The Mg. Pr. and the 
Pashtu and Kafiri were once in close connection, perhaps one language. ... at some 
time in the remote past, they became separated by the Sr. Pr. tongue, like a wedge, cleaving 
diem asunder and gradually pushing the Mg. farther and farther away towards the east” 
(Hoernle 1880, xxxiv). 

Grierson (1903) took Hoernle’s wedge concept and expanded it further. He envi¬ 
sioned the Aryan invasion taking place over centuries in multiple waves. Using the first 
and the last of such waves as reference points, he proposed that the earlier comers spoke 
a non-Sanskritic Indo-Aryan dialect, 16 and the newcomers a Sanskritic one: “The later 
invaders . . . reached the Punjab which they found already settled by Indo-Aryans from 
the West speaking a closely cognate tongue” (52) From there, they forced their way to 
the eastern Punjab, which they wrested from the first comers, pushing them to the sur¬ 
rounding areas: “It is reasonable to suppose that the tribes who composed this later 
invasion (wherever they came from) should have expanded as time went on, and should 
have dirust outwards in each direction the members of the earlier incomers” (53) Grierson 
observes that in medieval Sanskrit geography, Madhyadesa is continually referred to as 
the true, pure home of the Indo-Aryan people. He further notes that the modern San¬ 
skritic Indo-Aryan vernaculars fall into two main families, one of which is spoken in a 
compact tract of country almost exactly corresponding to this ancient Madhyadesa and 

218 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

centered in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. The other surrounds it in three-quarters of 
a circle, commencing in Kashmir and running through the western Punjab, Sind, 
Maharashtra, central India, Orissa, Bihar, Bengal, and Assam (52-53). These two ar¬ 
eas represent the offspring of the two waves of Aryan incursions. 

Asko Parpola (1988, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997) has offered the most elaborate attempt 
to identify a two-wave Indo-Aryan incursion in the archaeological record. Parpola at¬ 
tempts to harmonize the discrepancies of associating the Indo-Aryans with the Andronovo 
culture as well as with the BMAC one by proposing a twofold incursion of Indo-Aryans 
into the subcontinent. The first of these—the Dasas of the Rgveda-were Andronovo- 
related tribes that took over the BMAC. The sudden upsurge of wealth of the BMAC 
around the twenty-first century is likely to have been due to the strong hierarchical in¬ 
fluence of this ruling elite. Moreover, he points out that, the BMAC occupies precisely 
the area around the Oxus where Persian and Greek historical sources place the Da(h)as 
(< Dasas). The Parna (< Panis), another Rgvedic tribe inimical to the Aryas, are also 
identified in these classical sources as coming from this area. 

This first wave of Indo-Aryans was engulfed by later soma-pressing Indo-Aryan 
Andronov tribes that eventually became the composers of the Rgveda wherein they re¬ 
fer to themselves as Aryas. Their arrival in this area may well have been the cause for 
the sudden collapse of the BMAC around 1700 b.c.e. This date synchronizes neatly 
with the Gandhara Grave Ware culture (which will be discussed in the next chapter), 
the first unambiguous appearance of the horse in the subcontinent, as well as with the 
subsequent appearance of the Mitanni in Syria around 1500 b.c.e. By this time, the 
Aryas and Dasas had merged as evidenced by the juxtaposition of the Aryan Indra, 
with Varuna of the Dasas in the Mitanni treatises. Parpola’s method, to some extent, 
involves determining the route the Aryans must have taken in order to reach India, 
examining the archaeological record along this route, and composing an elaborate his¬ 
torical scenario that he believes accords with Rgvedic narrative: : “The valley of Swat 
occupies a strategic position in the archaeological identification of the early Rgvedic Aryans, 
because they must have passed through this area. . . . Therefore we must briefly review 
its archaeological history to check the match" (Parpola 1994, 153; my italics). 

Parpola (1988) extracts the Rgvedic verses where Indra, the purandara ‘fort-destroyer’ 
is active in the destruction of the ninety-nine or hundred puras ‘forts’ of his enemies, 
the Dasas. 17 Based on a verse from the Satapatha Brahmana (, and draw¬ 
ing on the work of Wilhelm Rau discussed earlier, Parpola proposes that a significant 
feature of these forts is that they are tripura, or have a threefold structure. Parpola takes 
this to mean not only that the forts are surrounded by concentric circular walls but also 
that the forts themselves are circular in construction. Although only one such round 
fort from this period has been unearthed to date, Parpola believes that there must have 
been more, since circular forts with concentric walls survived there until Achaemenid 
times. He argues that both of these details preclude the possibility of the cities of the 
Indus Valley representing the Dasa forts, since these are neither round nor fortified by 
three concentric walls. TheRgveda, however, is firmly situated in more or less the same 
geographic area occupied by the Indus Valley, so if the Dasa forts were not those of the 
Harappans, whose were they? 

Parpola argues that even though the famous Sudas of the Rgveda is clearly associated 
with the Punjab, 18 his forefather, Divodasa, need not be. Divodasa’s chief enemy. 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 219 

Sambara, possessed a hundred (or ninety-nine) forts and was said to have resided in a 
mountainous domain. This, according to Parpola, could have been Bactria, northern 
Afghanistan. As has been discussed, there is a site in this area called Dashly-3, which is 
dated to about 2000 b.c.e. The site, although surrounded by square walls, consists of 
various buildings, among which stand three concentric walls. Although these urban 
structures are a far cry from the temporary mud and wattle purs reconstructed by Rau, 
these three walls correspond, for Parpola, to the tripura of die Dasas. He believes he has 
found the evidence representing the Dasa forts attacked by the Aryans on their way to 
the subcontinent. 19 

K. D. Sethna, who is questioning the very assumption that the Indo-Aryans need be 
considered intruders at all, has dedicated half of the second edition of his book The 
Problem of Aryan Origins (1992) to critiquing Parpola’s 1988 . article, which had been 
published in the interim between editions. Sethna’s general objections concerning in¬ 
terpretative methodology echo those of many South Asian archaeologists: “The picture 
we derive from Parpola is of a traffic to and fro of cultural modes—continued from a 
fairly long past and across sufficiently wide areas—against a common religious background 
of various shades. It is a picture of contacts and exchanges. . . . none of them necessar¬ 
ily bespeak large-scale movements of population” (229). Since all the specific objections 
against each step of Parpola’s reconstruction are quite voluminous and painstakingly 
argued, one example (central to Parpola’s theme) of how Sethna sees the “evidence” 
being artificially construed to fit a series of assumptions will suffice for our purposes. 

Sethna finds the passage from the Satapatha Brahmana upon which Parpola bases 
his case of concentric walls actually describing the gods as fearful lest the Raksasas, the 
fiends, might slay their Agni. 20 The passage explains why the priest draws three concen¬ 
tric lines around the fire during a particular rinial. The practice, mentioned in two other 
places in the Brahmanas, is enacted to ward off demons during the performance of the 
sacred rites. Sethna points out that, first of all, the three walls represent fire ( agnipurd ), 
not stone and mortar. Parpola has reified a magico-ritualistic ceremony into a real-life 
fortification. Second, it is the Aryan sacrificers who are drawing the sacred lines (or 
building the forts as per Parpola), not the Dasas or Asuras, as Parpola’s version requires. 
Moreover, neither the word tripura nor any of its associations mentioned earlier occur 
anywhere in the Rgveda itself. As we have seen, in the Rgveda, the puras are described 
variously as wide and broad, made of stone, made of metal, hundred-curved, or with 
the strange epithet ‘“autumnal,” but there is no mention whatsoever of three concentric 
walls. 21 One might add, too, that in this account Sudasa and his father Divodasa, as is 
obvious by their names, are themselves Dasas, despite being unquestionably Aryans 
par excellence, which throws the whole Arya-Dasa dichotomy into even further confu¬ 
sion. Parpola sees the Dasas as a first group of invading Indo-Aryans, displaced by a 
second group who called themselves Aryas and their foes, the first group, Dasas. This 
raises the question of why Sudas and his father, who were leaders of the second, victo¬ 
rious group, would call themselves, or have been called, Dasas (Parpola accounts for 
this by supposing that the Vedic group had adopted Dasa traits from early on). 

Sethna further points out that the three concentric walls of Dashly-3, even if we al¬ 
low them to be the real-life protoforms of the protective fire lines drawn by the priest in 
the much later Vedic rituals, are a single archaeological occurrence. No other fortified 
village in Bactria has three concentric walls (we can recall that Sambara alone, whom 

220 The Quest for the Origin of Vet! ic Culture 

Parpola considers to be one of the leaders of the Dasas in their concentric forts in Bactria, 
is described as having ninety-nine forts). Nor, as Parpola (1988, 138) himself notes, is 
there any evidence that any of these fortified villages were burned, unlike those described 
in the Rgveda. Moreover, the solitary site that does have three concentric walls does not 
stand out on its own, as Parpola’s conjectured Dasa forts should, but occurs inside the 
square walls surrounding the fort. It would have been these square walls that would 
have been visible to any invading Aryans, not the concentric ones of Parpola’s account. 
Sethna (1992) continues at length in his criticisms and concludes: “I do not think we 
have any reason to visualize or locate Dasa forts in the way Parpola does” (313). 

Parpola’s account has received criticisms from various other quarters. Sarianidi (1993b) 

It should be indicated that the available direct archaeological data contradict the theory, 
suggested long ago, concerning the intensive penetration of the steppe Andronovo-type 
tribes into traditional agricultural areas. Direct archaeological data from Bactria and 
Margiana show without any shade of doubt that Andronovo tribes penetrated to a mini¬ 
mum extent into Bactria and Margianian oases, not exceeding the limits of normal con¬ 
tacts so natural for tribes with different economical structures, living in the borderlands 
of steppe and agricultural oases.” (1 7) 

Lyonnet (1993) also points out that “no traces of systematic destruction, at least in 
Bactriana and Margiana, have been observed and nothing else allows us to state that 
there was an intrusion of invaders. This intrusion of new objects could be considered 
the result of peaceful trade, and the new rites could be due just to local change” (428). 
Like Sethna, she also draws attention to the fact that Dashly-3 is die only circular fort 
with three surrounding walls that has been found, and to the fact that the proto-urban 
aspect of the site does not accord well with the generally accepted notion of the Rgvedic 
descriptions which are suppossed to know no urban centers. Moreover, Jettmar (1981) 
observes that the “circular walls had no value of defence,” since houses lean on both 
sides of them directly and they “were rather thin” (222). Parpola himself is prepared to 
“admit that concrete evidence of an invasion of steppe nomads into Bactria and Margiana 
is missing” (1993, 55). While not sharing the same views as Parpola, I would like to 
agree with Sarianidi (1993b) that “you can only admire A. Parpola having taken on 
gigantic effort and his having made an attempt to logically unify archaeological and lin¬ 
guistic data. ... no archaeologist has dared to undertake such a thankless and titanic 
work” (18). 


From the perspective of archaeology, then, we have two basic options. We can either 
accept (or renegotiate) the temporal and geographic contours assigned to the trajectory 
of the Indo-Aryans from a non-South Asian origin and attempt to correlate their move¬ 
ments into the subcontinent with some of the innovations in the archaeological record, 
both in central Asia and into the subcontinent. Or we can challenge or (as with many 
Indigenous Aryanists) simply ignore all these assumptions and interpret the continu¬ 
ities and innovations in the archaeological record as nothing more than regular exchanges 
and interactions among various ethnic and socio-economic groups without feeling im- 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 221 

pelled to connect them with the physical movements of a new language group (this is 
not to suggest that most Migrationists do not also accept such exchanges and interac¬ 
tions). Of those following this latter course, some are simply unconcerned with the lin¬ 
guistic evidence and operate purely as archaeologists, while others hold that the Indo- 
Aryan languages have always been indigenous to the subcontinent. All these positions 
have corollaries. 

If we adopt the first Migrationist position, we need to orient ourselves around either 
a northern course or a southern course (or some combination of both). The most seri¬ 
ous, obvious, and oft-cited objection against the northern Andronovo course is that the 
steppe culture does not intrude into the South Asian borderlands (not to speak of the 
heartland). Why, then, should one accept it as representing Indo-Aryan speakers in¬ 
truding into South Asia (although these steppe people may certainly have been speakers 
of Indo-Iranian dialects)? Such a position can only be predicated on an acceptance of 
the linguistic assumptions outlined in the previous chapters and not on the archaeo¬ 
logical data per se. 

In response to this, one can try one’s hand at mixing and matching and propose 
that the Indo-Aryans adopted significantly different local cultures as they moved along 
or suggest that they arrived in separate waves. Or, since “in the northwest zone there is 
a striking absence of uniformity and common traits in any of the cultures identified as 
‘Aryan’” (Dikshit 1985, 57), one can choose to find traces of Indo-Aryans in every place 
where any innovations are to be found at all. Allchin finds Aryans at Hissar III, at 
Namazga, in the cemeteries of Tajikistan, in the BMAC, in Mehrgarh, Sibri, and Quetta, 
as destroyers of the Mature Harappan cities, as residents of the Mature Harappan cities, 
in Cemetery H, in Chanhu-daro, and in the Gandhara grave culture. This entails sub¬ 
scribing to a “model flexible enough to allow for several different types of movement, 
probably taking place on more than one occasion, and representing a number of stages 
in time and place” (Allchin 1995, 47). Mallory’s “bullet” is a somewhat less ambitious 
version of this method. Such arguments, however, cannot be premised on the archaeo¬ 
logical data. They can only be supported by philological predispositions imposed upon 
whatever archaeological evidence appears amenable or most readily at hand. As far as 
B. K. Thapar (1970) is concerned: 

The archaeological and the anthropological evidences, represented by the various culture- 
groups of the second millennium B.C., are inconsistent with the philological evidence. Even 
the archaeological and anthropological evidences have been found to vary from region to 
region—Anatolia, northern Iraq, northern Iran, Soviet Central Russia, Swat valley and 
Gandhara region or Pakistan and Ganga-Yamuna doab. ... It is obvious, therefore, that 
there was no single culture associated with the Aryans in all these regions. . . . Are wc to 
assume that the Aryans were migrants with no defined culture but with adherence to a 
linguistic equipment? (160) 

Dilip Chakrabarti’s comments (1986) are of relevance here: “Archaeology must take 
the entire basic framework of the Aryan model into consideration. It should not be a 
question of underlining a particular set of archaeological data and arguing that these 
data conform to a particular section of the Vedic literary corpus without at all trying to 
determine how this hypothesis will affect the other sets of the contemporary archaeo¬ 
logical data and the other sections of the Vedic literary corpus” (74). As far as Thapar 
and Rahman (1996) are concerned, there is nothing “to show that the Indo-Aryan peoples 

222 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

possessed a specific material culture, special pottery, or particular figurines that would 
enable us to establish some kind of identification marks for their migration” (1996, 
277). Edmund Leach (1990) rejects tire whole method of using the Rgvedic literary corpus 
to try to extract clues that can be correlated with the archaeological record. He objects to 
the entire procedure whereby “an oral tradition has been treated as if it were a datable 
written record and myth has been confused with history as if it actually happened” (230). 22 
Leach throws out an appeal to his colleagues: “If only . . . [scholars] would stop think¬ 
ing of the Rig Veda as a garbled history book” (244). As far as he is concerned, “The 
Aryan invasions never happened at all”, but, he adds, “of course no one is going to 
believe that” (245). 

The immediate objection against the southern course is that the Indo-Aryans are 
primarily considered to have been pastoralists who supposedly knew no urban centers 
(and what to speak of states) or monumental places of worship, and were not agricultur¬ 
ists. I have already indicated my position that the Indo-Aryans must have interacted 
with urban centers whenever and wherever they were. Moreover, it has been pointed 
out that agriculture is very old on the subcontinent, and so no pastoral group could 
have existed there oblivious to farming cultures. Therefore, such objections need quali¬ 

From Indigenist perspetives Pastoralists and farmers have always coexisted in the 
subcontinent. Both pastoralists and agriculturalists presently are, and have long been, 
Indo-Aryan speakers. But how far can we go back in India with an Indo-Aryan pres¬ 
ence? Have the Indo-Aryans, whether agriculturists, pastoralists, or both, been in the 
subcontinent since all eternity? The immediate issue confronting an Indigenous posi¬ 
tion is that if the Indo-Aryan speakers are autochthonous to South Asia, then how are 
they related to the other Indo-European languages? The corollary can only be that the 
other Indo-Europeans left the subcontinent for their destinations to the west. 

This raises the immediate objection that if archaeology cannot trace any consistent 
material culture identifiable as Indo-Aryan arriving into the subcontinent from outside, 
it most certainly cannot identify any such culture emanating out. Accordingly, as far as 
archaeology is concerned, we have reached a stalemate (although from a Migrationist 
perspective there is, arguably at least, some kind of chronological sequence of archaeo¬ 
logical culture that at least heads toward the general direction of the subcontinent, even 
if it does not penetrate it). Ultimately, however, the Aryans cannot be satisfactorily iden¬ 
tified in the archaeological record as either entering or exiting. The trajectory of the 
Indo-Aryans, indeed the necessity of their very existence, is a linguistic issue that ar¬ 
chaeology, as most archaeologists are well aware, cannot locate in the archaeological 
record without engaging in what, to all intents and purposes, amounts to special and 
often complicated pleading. On the basis of the present evidence, linguistics cannot 
decisively determine with any significant degree of consensus where the original home¬ 
land actually was. And archaeology can only hope to be productive in identifying the 
material remains of a linguistic group if linguistics has already done the groundwork of 
pinpointing its geographic area of origin with a reasonable degree of precision. 

Accordingly, archaeology cannot deny the possibility that Indo-Aryan and Iranian 
(which were preceded by Indo-Iranian) languages might have been spoken in the area 
of the Punjab, Pakistan/Afghanistan, southeast central Asia/northeast Iran since the 
second, third or even fourth millennium b.c.e. The problem is chronological. In fact, 

Archaeological Evidence outside the Subcontinent 223 

archaeologically at least, South Asian archaeologists often draw attention to a cultural 
continuum that can be traced as far back as Mehrgarh in the seventh millennium b.c.e. 
within which innovations and developments can be explained simply by internal devel¬ 
opments and external trade. If there were no constraints stemming from the date com¬ 
monly assigned to the Veda, this whole area could have included urbanites and agricul¬ 
turists from the South, as well as nomads and pastoralists from the North, interacting 
together in the millennia b.c.e. as they always have been and still do in the present day. 
Both steppe dwellers and urban farmers could have been speakers of related Indo-Iranian 
dialects in protohistory just as they are today and have always been in recorded history. 
There could have been invasions, migrations, trade, cultural exchanges, all manner of 
interactions—cultural evolution and devolution (followed sometimes by renewed evolu¬ 
tion)—as well as all manner of diversification in chronological time. And all within a 
large, heterogeneous ethnic and cultural area of people who nonetheless spoke related 
dialects—whether living in towns, mountains, or agricultural plains—just as has always 
been die history of the subcontinent. Sarianidi (1999), for one, is prepared to countenace 
something along these lines in the second millennium bce (albeit from a Near Eastern 

The northern branch of the Indo-Iranian tribes had separated early on from its Indo- 
Iranian mother country and settled widely in the wood and steppe zone of Eurasia . . . We 
find this reformed culture in the Andronovo tribes in the middle of the second millen¬ 
nium bc in Central Asia where they contacted the Indo-Iranian population of the farm¬ 
ing oasis of the BMAC . . . And maybe for this reason the Andronovo tribes found no 
confrontation in the territory of the BMAC (not to speak of a military invasion). On 
the contrary they peacefully co-existed with the ancient farmers of Margiana, south 
Turkmenistan and Bactria as they were all tribes of related origin. (323) 

It is not archaeology that can discount the possibility of all this. As I have asserted 
elsewhere, everything depends on die date of the Rgveda. Before turning to the prob¬ 
lems involved with the dating of this text, there is one last aspect of the archaeological 
record that must briefly detain us. This is the attempt to trace the trajectory of the Indo- 
Aryans from within the subcontinent. 


Aryans in the Archaeological Record 

The Evidence inside the Subcontinent 

Once it had been determined and accepted by a majority of scholars that the Indus 
Valley Civilization was definitely not to be connected with the Vedic Aryans, and that 
the Vedas were to be dated sometime around 1200 b.c.e., the time span for the main 
entry of the Indo-Aryans into the subcontinent could be narrowed down to a post- 
Harappan period between approximately 1900 and 1200 b.c.e. I have discussed how 
the archaeological cultures from the Caspian Sea area to Afghanistan in the particular 
time frame deemed appropriate for the trans-Asiatic saga of the Indo-Aryans were scoured 
and how archaeologists interpreted a variety of material cultures as evidence of Indo- 
Aryans, either by attempting to correlate them with written sources or on the basis of 
their innovatory nature in the archaeological record. A parallel logic has prompted a 
series of interpretations from within the Indian subcontinent and within this later time 

The immediate and most obvious archaeological candidates were the archaeological 
cultures known variously as Late Harappan, Post-Harappan, or Post-Urban, during which 
period the Indo-Aryans are assumed to have entered the subcontinent. Allchin (1995, 
29), opting for Possehl’s term of Post-Urban, dates this phase from 2000 b.c.e. to the 
last quarter of the second millennium b.c.e. Allchin notes a variety of factors that con¬ 
tributed to the weakening of the urban Indus culture, which he suggests “presented an 
invitation to some of their predatory neighbours, and thus coincided with incursions of 
peoples from the hills to the west, who almost certainly established for themselves 
dominant roles in relation to the existing population of the Indus system” (38). A num¬ 
ber of regional cultures flourished during this period, from which I will consider the 
ones that have been typically connected with intruding Indo-Aryan elements. These are 
the Gandhara Grave Culture; the Jhukar Cultures, the Cemetery H culture, and the 


Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 225 

Painted Gray Ware culture. I will first discuss the ways in which these cultures have 
been related to the Indo-Aryans and then discuss interpretative options. Again, 1 will 
attempt to spare the reader excessive detail and simply touch upon the arguments likely 
to be most commonly encountered in this regard. 

Gandhara Grave Culture 

A variety of graves were found in the environs of the Swat Valley by A. Dani, who 
coined the name for this culture, and by members of the Italian Archaeological Mis¬ 
sion. 1 Some of the graves are of fractional skeletons, 2 which, according to Dani (1992), 
are the only graves associated with iron “and must be understood as an intrusive phe¬ 
nomenon by a people who introduced iron” (405). In one graveyard, a burial of two 
horses was found at surface level (Antonini 1973, 241), which, as we know, will imme¬ 
diately capture the attention of Aryan-spotters. In addition to a red ware pottery, there 
is a plain grayware that belongs to a tradition “very different from those of the periods 
immediately preceding and immediately following, in shapes and decoration and in the 
production techniques of the vessels” (Stacul 1973, 197). Dani (1978) and Stacul (1969) 
connect this gray pottery with die plain ware, from northeast Iran, noted previously. 3 
Various bowls, vases, and bronzes similar to objects from Hissar III fortify this associa¬ 
tion. Dani finds close relations between the material culture of the Northwest and that 
of the northeastern part of Iran in the second and first millennium B.C., but with little 
direct link with the areas in Soviet Central Asia or western Asia. According to him, this 
part of Iran, lying to the east of the Caspian Sea, should be regarded as a nucleus zone 
for the diffusion of cultures to different directions. The culture he sees diffused from 
this area is that of the Indo-Aryans: “The literary accounts have talked of the people 
who call themselves Aryans in the Vedic literature. ... as far as we are concerned, we 
. . . have shown how in the three periods of the graves we should now understand the 
literary records which we have so long taken for historical truth” (Dani 1978, 53). 

Stacul (1969) finds the excavations can be assigned to seven quite distinct periods, 
although “we are unable to define just how much such clear differences between period 
and period depend on the fragmentary nature of our data . . . and how much is the 
result of sudden changes and upheavals due to the instability of the dominant tribal 
groups” (86). Unlike Dani, he does connect such groups with the central Asian peoples 
he believes were involved in the decline of the urban centers in Afghanistan, northern 
Iran, and central Asia. But he notes that “the complexity of these phases and the gen¬ 
erally scarce archaeological documentation hinder even a summary reconstruction of 
these events, which should presumably be linked to the spread of the Aryan tribes in 
the regions of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent” (86-87). 4 

For those undertaking the mix-and-match project that is the inevitable lot of anyone 
attempting to identify the Indo-Aryans in the archaeological record, there is no consen¬ 
sus among archaeologists regarding any possible foreign affiliation of the graves. Thapar 
and Rahman (1996) find “their connection to central Asia and Iran are definite, though 
of what character is still not known” (268). Kuzmina (1976) is much more confident 
that the burial rites and pottery from both the Beshkent and the Gandharan cemetery 
provide “grounds for attributing an Indian origin [to the Beshkent group] and for sup- 

226 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

posing that it later shifted to Hindustan where the Swat cemeteries are thought to have 
been its legacy” (131). 

Antonini, in contrast, has rejected attempts to correlate the graves with the Beshkent 
and Vakhsh graves of Tadjikistan (for references to these attempts by scholars such as 
Kuzmina and Litvinskij, see Antonini 1973). Antonini (1973, 239-244) points out 
differences in tomb structures, metal objects, and pottery types between the two cub 
tures, as well as the absence in the Swat graves of items that were typical of the 
Tadjikistan graves, such as male-female differentiation in inhumation, miniature 
hearths, stones arranged as swastikas, and animal remains. Although both Dani and 
Stacul accept some Iranian parallels with the grave material, Dani (1977) finds “very 
little” that provides a link with central Asia, while Stacul also notes that the Tadjikistan 
graves “do not seem to indicate affinities with the graves found in Northern Paki¬ 
stan” (198). In terms of other connections, Parpola (1993), following Mallory, accepts 
that this culture is “by no means identical with the Bronze Age Culture of Bactria 
and Margiana” either (54). 

Tusa (1977) believes that “the so-called ‘grave culture’ is not in fact due to a sudden 
interruption in the life of the valley but to an appreciable, substantial change perhaps 
due to new contributions that are nevertheless in line with the cultural traditions of the 
previous period.” He echoes objections that have been raised so many times by South 
Asian archaeologists: “The existence of contributions from the outside, for too long used 
to justify cultural change in the sub-Himalayan area, has in my opinion been exagger¬ 
ated even though it could conceivably have been a factor in cultural change without 
being the only one” (690). As far as he is concerned, “to attribute a historical value to 
. . . the slender links with northwestern Iran and northern Afghanistan ... is a mistake 
“because . . .” it could well be the spread of particular objects and, as such, objects that 
could circulate more easily quite apart from any real contacts” (691 -692). 

Jhukar Culture 

This culture is situated in the Indus Valley itself and named after Mughal’s excavations 
at Jhukar. It includes the sites of Amri and Chanhu-daro. Chanhu-Daro, was excavated 
by Mackay, and a report was published in 1943. Allchin draws attention, on the one 
hand, to the complete absence of typically Harappan seals and other characteristically 
Harappan urban craft products at this site, and, on the other, to the presence of stamp 
seals with parallels in eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and central Asia, as well as to a range 
of copper tools and pins with analogues in those regions, but equally “foreign” to the 
Harappan world. Allchin (1995, 32) is aware that the “foreign” elements noticed at 
Chanhu-Daro have not been evidenced at other sites such as those in Saurashtra. He 
also acknowledges that “while it is possible to argue, as some have done, that the metal 
artifacts of ‘foreign’ type may be no more than die products of trade,” he nonetheless 
holds that the presence of the stamp seals is unequivocal in implication: the absence of 
Harappan seals—the symbols of Harappan political and economic power—and their 
displacement by these foreign seal types “must indicate that a new power was dominant 
at Chanhu-daro and by inference in the middle and lower Indus region” (31). 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 227 

Jarrige (1983), in contrast, had long since pointed out that there were chronological 
problems with correlating the seals and other artifacts with the Indo-Aryans: “The mi¬ 
gration of these [seminomadic] groups Icoming from central Asia] would sometimes be 
traced on maps based on the accidental discovery of certain types of artifacts 5 —princi¬ 
pally metal objects and seals—which could be stylistically associated with the Hissar III C 
complex.” He points out, however, that this complex is now dated to the end of the third 
millennium B.C. making it contemporary with the Mature Harappan and not later, as 
was previously thought: “Thus most of these finds must be interpreted in the context of 
international exchange covering the whole of the Middle East and cannot be interpreted 
as reflecting the invasion of pastoralists in the mid-2nd millennium bc” (42). 

Jarrige (1973) complains of the tendency of lumping everything not typically Harappan 
under the rubric of the Jhukar culture, “a problem which is further complicated when, 
by attempting to harmonize the archaeological data with philological arguments, people 
have developed the habit of attributing to the Jhukar culture all discoveries amenable of 
offering some correlation with the Iranian world and Central Asia” (263). Jarrige goes 
on to consider whether there was a disruption of sedentary urban life in the Indus Valley 
and a sudden drop in agricultural productivity of that area accompanied by a shift to 
seminomadic pastoralism with evidence of warfare—in short, all of the features that would 
ideally accompany an intrusion of Indo-Aryan nomads. As the excavator of Pirak, the 
only well-preserved second millennium b.c.e. site from the area (which he dates from 
1700 to 700 b.c.e.), Jarrige (1985) finds a “town” of some size with “elaborate architec¬ 
ture” and evidence of a more intense level of irrigation and cultivation than occurred in 
tire third millennium b.c.e.: “Just the opposite of that which has been presumed on the 
basis of negative evidence” (46). In view of the fact that Pirak is widely accepted as her¬ 
alding the Indo-Aryans due to the discovery of the horse there, my previous remarks 
about Indo-Aryans and urban centers are reinforced. Those wishing to consider Pirak 
as evidence of nomad Indo-Aryan pastoralists must address the fact that it was “a town 
of some size with elaborate architecture” that increased the agricultural productivity of 
the area. 

Jarrige’s study of continuity and change concludes that the people living in the Kachi 
plain during the second millennium b.c.e. undoubtedly experienced the major economic 
transformations of the time yet maintained significant elements of cultural continuity 
and conservatism from the early third millennium b.c.e. and earlier. He underscores 
the continuity aspect of the area by comparing the ancient ruins of residential buildings 
from the excavations at Pirak with the very recent ruins of a house deserted by Hindus 
at partition in the same district. The resemblance is striking, while the samples of cook¬ 
ing pots between the two periods seem almost identical. Regarding the transformations, 
he doubts whether every newly attested item in the Kachi archaeological record of the 
second millennium b.c.e. could be attributed to an influx of new peoples, “since the 
processes . . . are too complex to be attributed to the arrival of invaders who at the same 
time would have had to have introduced rice from the Ganges, sorghum from the Ara¬ 
bian Gulf, and camels and horses from Central Asia” (Jarrige 1983, 56). 

The discovery of the horse in Pirak, however, must detain us. The evidence consists 
of figurines of horses and horsemen. By the end of Pirak II, the figurines are painted 
with trappings, and some are wheeled. This is the first evidence of Equus caballus Linn 

228 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

in South Asia that is accepted by Meadow (1997, 309) from the evidence he has been 
able to examine so far. While (Jarrige (1983) is skeptical that “the dream of several 
generations of scholars—to find a continuous line of sites from the Eurasian steppes 
to the Ganges valley all with ‘typical’ grey ware or ‘steppe-style’ pottery which could 
be used to map the movements of Indo-Aryan populations” will ever materialize (63), 
he does find this attested presence of the horse significant in this regard. It is only 
with the introduction of this animal (allowing that this is the earliest uncontested 
evidence for the horse) that Jarrige is prepared to consider “groups related to those 
from the Eurasian steppes and Central Asian highlands [beginning] to play an im¬ 
portant role in the functioning of social and economic systems in the northwestern 
part of South Asia” (60). 

In view of all that I have discussed regarding the horse in the previous chapter, I will 
simply note that Jarrige (1 985) specifically mentions that the existence of the Indo-Ary- 
ans has “so far only been deduced on the basis of linguistic evidence” (62; my italics). 
Otherwise, “what we see is a dynamic system of multidirectional contacts and ‘influ¬ 
ences’ extending throughout a vast area from southern Central Asia to the Ganges val¬ 
ley and continuing from the beginning of the 2nd millennium into the 1st millennium 
bc” (62). If the linguistic evidence to which archaeologists defer for the status of the 
Indo-Aryans as intruders into South Asia is brought into question, then the horse could 
simply become another innovatory item introduced into South Asia through trade. In 
the absence of irrefutable linguistic evidence, there is no reason to feel compelled to 
believe that the introduction of the horse into the subcontinent is indicative of the in¬ 
troduction of new peoples any more than the introduction of any other innovatory items 
of material culture (such as camels, sorghum, rice, lapis lazuli, or anything else) is rep¬ 
resentative of new human migratory influxes: 

There is evidence for the intensification of subsistence practice, multicropping and the 
adoption of new forms of transportation (camel and horse). These changes were made by 
the indigenous inhabitants, and were not the result of new people streaming into the re¬ 
gion. The horse and camel would indicate connections with Central Asia. The cultiva¬ 
tion of rice would connect with either the Late Harappan in the Ganga-Yamuna region or 
Gujarat. (Kenoyer 1995, 227; my italics) 

Moreover, if the arrival of a new people can be promoted on the basis of the introduc¬ 
tion of an essential new item from central Asia, then why should using an inverse logic 
denying any such arrival because of the nonintroduction of an essential item from central 
Asia not also be given consideration? According to Kenoyer (1995): 

In earlier models, the northwestern regions were the source of the so-called movements 
of Indo-Aryan speaking peoples. Yet, if there were such movements, why were the mi¬ 
grants not supplying one of the most important raw materials for bronze production, i.e. 
tin? This cannot be answered simply by saying that iron was replacing copper and bronze, 
because the prominent use of iron does not occur until much later, in the NBP [North¬ 
ern Black Polished Ware] period. (230) 

The Vedas, after all, speak of and value bronze as well as the horse. The argument 
here is why did the bronze-using Indo-Aryan speakers not convey tin into the subcon¬ 
tinent from the northwest if they were arriving from those areas? 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 229 

Cemetery H Culture 

The Cemetery H excavations, a description of which appeared in a report published by 
Vats in 1940, contained pottery that the excavator considered indicated a “Rigvcdic” 
pattern of belief. Wheeler (1947) noted: 

The intrusive culture, as represented by its pottery, has in origin nothing to do with the 
Harappa culture; its ceramic differs from that of the latter both in finish and in decora¬ 
tion, and its dwellings . . . are notably more roughly constructed than those of Harappa 
proper. Its analogues have not yet been identified, and it appears in fact as abruptly as 
did its Harappan predecessor. The suggestion has been made [by Childc] very hesitat¬ 
ingly, that the Cemetery H intruders “may belong to the Aryan invaders.” (81) 

He then proceeded to support this suggestion using the types of arguments I outlined 
in the previous chapter. This line of interpretation is still occasionally found in cur¬ 
rency: “The evidence is admittedly slender, but there appears to be a good case for see¬ 
ing in the Cemetery H culture the presence of an element of foreign intruders who have 
dominated the existing population and exploited their craft products, though modified 
to suit their own tastes” (Allchin 1 995, 33). 6 Nowadays few South Asian archaeologists 
would concur with this opinion, and I shall simply note with Kcnoyer (1991b) that 
Cemetery H “may reflect only a change in the focus of settlement organization from that 
which was the pattern of the earlier Harappan phase and not cultural discontinuity, 
urban decay, invading aliens, or site abandonment, all of which have been suggested in 
the past” (56). 

Painted Gray Ware Culture 

The Painted Gray Ware (PGW) type of pottery was especially promoted by B. B. Lai 
(1978) as best representing the Aryan presence. Outside of professional archaeological 
circles, it still surfaces to this day in discussions concerning evidence of Aryan intru¬ 
sions. The PGW is found in quintessential Aryan locales such as Hastinapur, Mathura, 
and Kurukshetra, as well as in the SarasvatT valley from where the Aryans are supposed 
to have arrived. It also coincides with the earliest discovery of iron in the archaeological 
record, and with findings of horse bones (e.g., Hastinapur). Lai’s theory, if viewed from 
within the framework that the Aryans must have come into India in the mid-second 
millennium B.C.E., seemed persuasive at the time. Objections had already been raised, 
however. Chakrabarti (1968), for example, pointed out that sites like Hastinapur con¬ 
tain evidence of rice use and of the presence ot domestic pig and buffalo alongside the 
PGW, which are all features that have been ascribed an eastern origin, as opposed to 
the traditional northwestern origin of the Aryans. Moreover, B. K. Thapar (1970, 156) 
remarked that had the PGW been symptomatic of the Aryans coming in from the 
Northwest, then the same pottery type would be expected to occur in Iran and Afghani¬ 
stan. It does not, which threw serious doubts on Lai’s thesis. As far as archaeologists 
like Shaffer are concerned, “there is no connection between the PGW and the ‘Ary¬ 
ans’”; it is an indigenous culture. Accordingly, “If PGW has an indigenous South Asian 

230 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

origin it cannot, therefore, represent an intrusive culture with a western origin.” Most 
important from the perspective of this chapter, “this conclusion . . . means that we 
have no archaeological culture which might represent the Aryan phenomenon” (Shaffer 

1986, 232). 

In any event, Lai (1997) himself has changed his views, and his recently published 
book contains an appendix called “It’s Time to Rethink” (281 -287). Pressed to address 
the Indo-Aryan issue because of his preeminent status in Indian archaeology, and due 
to the immense controversy in India surrounding the origins of the Indo-Aryans, he 
proceeds to analyze all the arguments that are commonly raised against the possibility 
that the Indo-Aryans could have been Harappans. He concludes: 

Is it not time to rethink about the entire issue? Could the chalcolithic people of Mehrgarh 
[seventh millennium b.c.e.J, who in the course- of time evolved into Bronze Age 
Harappans, themselves have been the Indo-Aryans? These chalcolithic people had rela¬ 
tionship with areas now compromising northern Afghanistan, northeastern Iran and 
even southern part of central Asia—which area may have been the habitat of the Aryans 
prior to the composition of the Rgveda. (287) 

Lai’s proposal, of course, must address the chronological issues involved in dating the 
Vedic texts. But it does illustrate the tendency among South Asian archaeologists to 
emphasize continuity and trade, rather dran innovation due to migrations. In conclu¬ 
sion, cultural evidence of the Indo-Aryans whether in central Asia or within the sub¬ 
continent, cannot be readily traced in the archaeological record. What about the Indo- 
Aryan speakers themselves? Can they be connected with a specific racial type in the 
archaeological record? 

Aryans in the Skeletal Record 

Initially, Guha, in 1935, had identified four racial elements at Mohenjo-Daro. Kumar, 
who examined the cranial remains from the Harappan material in 1973, suggested that 
the rugged proto-Nordic elements from these might be indicative of an influx of Indo- 
European or Indo-Iranian people, despite acknowledging the difficulty in identifying 
racially distinct Aryans (Kumar 1973, 74). His starting premise, however, was that “the 
Aryan invasion ... is accepted on the basis of the evidence of the Vedas” (67), by which 
he was referring to the racial references outlined in chapter 3. 

K. Kennedy (1984), however, who was able to examine all three hundred skeletons 
that had been retrieved from the Indus Valley Civilization, found that the ancient 
Harappans “are not markedly different in their skeletal biology from the present-day 
inhabitants of Northwestern India and Pakistan” (102). He considers any physical varia¬ 
tions in the skeletal record to be perfectly normal for a metropolitan setting and consis¬ 
tent with any urban population past or present (103). As far as he is concerned, the 
polytypism in the South Asian record represents an “overlap of relatively homogeneous 
tribal and outcaste groups and their penetration into villages, dien into urban environ¬ 
ments of more heterogeneous people.” There is no need to defer to intruding aliens for 
any of this: “This dynamic rather than mass migration and invasions of nomadic and 
warlike peoples better accounts for the biological constitutions of those earlier urban 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 231 

populations in the Indus valley.” Here, again, we encounter the same objections raised 
repeatedly by South Asian archaeologists: “Of the Aryans, we must defer to literary and 
linguistic scholars in whose province lies the determination of the arrival and nature of 
the linguistic phenomenon we call the Aryans. . . . But archaeological evidence of Aryan- 
speaking peoples is questionable and the skeletal evidence is nil” (104; my italics). 

Not only is the skeletal evidence nil, but “if invasions of exotic races had taken place 
by Aryan hordes, we should encounter obvious discontinuities in the prehistoric skel¬ 
etal record that correspond with a period around 1500 BC.” Whatever discontinuities 
do occur in the record are either tar too late or far too early (Kennedy 1995, 58). These 
discontinuities were taken from a further study undertaken on the skeletal remains in 
the Harappan phase “Cemetery R37” (Hemphill et al. 1991). The results of this survey 
showed two periods of discontinuities: the first occurs during the period between 6000 
and 4500 b.c.e. between the Neolithic and Chalcolithic inhabitants of Mehrgarh, and 
the second at some point before 200 b.c.e. (but after 800 b.c.e.), which is visible in the 
remains at Sarai Khola (200 b.c.e.). Clearly, neither of these biological discontinuities 
corresponds with the commonly accepted period for Indo-Aryan intrusions. The Ary¬ 
ans have not been located in the skeletal record. It is important to note, at the risk of 
repetition, that Kennedy, like almost all South Asian archaeologists, has deferred to the 
“literary and linguistic” evidence for the arrival of the Aryans, since archaeology has not 
uncovered any trace of them. 

Continuity and Innovation 

Archaeologists today speak of “integration,” “decentralization,” “localization,” and 
“regionalization” to characterize the relationship of the various cultures of Northwest 
India/Pakistan with the Mature Harappan period (Shaffer 1992). In the Post-Harappan 
period, various regions, such as Jhukar and Cemetery H, arc seen as “springing from 
the Mature Harappan but having distinct assemblages localized in their own areas” 
(Mughal 1988). Aryans are not a mandatory ingredient in this process: 

Although the overall socioeconomic organization changed, continuities in technology, 
subsistence practices, settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the 
indigenous population was not displaced by hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. . . . 

For many years, the “invasions" or “migrations” of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/ 
Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the second rise of urban¬ 
ization. . . . This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical read¬ 
ing of Vedic texts. Current evidence does not support a pre- or proto-historic Indo-Aryan 
invasion of southern Asia. . . . Instead, there was an overlap between Late Harappan and 
post-Harappan communities . . . with no biological evidence for major new populations. 
(Kenoyer 1991a, 371) 

The vast majority of the professional archaeologists 1 interviewed in India insisted that 
there was no convincing archaeological evidence whatsoever to support any claims of 
external Indo-Aryan origins. This is part of a wider trend: archaeologists working out¬ 
side of South Asia are voicing similar views. Lamberg-Karlovsky (1993) comments on 
the extraordinary complexity and considerable debate within the archaeological litera¬ 
ture on the issue of external versus internal “causal premises” for the origin of the Bactrian 

232 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

Bronze Age: “It must be admitted that within recent years there has been a penchant to 
emphasize the indigenous nature of social processes. While vaguely admitting to some 
degree of interaction archaeologists have emphasized the autochthonous nature of virtu¬ 
ally every archaeological district” (34). R. Dyson (1993) remarks, in his discussion of 
changes taking place in the field, that the invasion thesis ’’becomes a paradigm of lim¬ 
ited usefulness” (576). He proposes that “by freeing themselves from this hypothesis 
drawn from earlier linguistic studies, archaeologists may now focus their attention on 
the archaeological evidence in its own terms” (576). Commenting on the “continuing 
lack of agreement over the criteria by which the presence of the Indo-Aryans can be 
demonstrated,” he outlines the alternative paradigm taking shape in the archaeology of 
the whole region I have been discussing: “The suggestion of an indigenous Indo-Aryan 
population going far back into pre-history in Northeastern Iran and nearby Turkmenia 
is now taken quite seriously.” With this trend in mind, he finds it interesting that the 
discussion between contributors of PossehPs Harappan Civilization “indicated a parallel 
trend” (577). 

Among Western archaeologists, Jim Shaffer has been the most outspoken critic of 
the Aryan invasion theory. According to Shaffer (1984b): 

Current archaeological data do not support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European 
invasion into South Asia at any time in the pre- or protohistoric periods. Instead, it is 
possible to document archaeologicaily a series of cultural changes reflecting indigenous 
cultural development from prehistoric to historic periods. . . . The Indo-Aryan invasion(s) 
as an academic concept in 18th- and 19th-century Europe reflected the cultural milieu of 
that period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that in turn was used to 
interpret archaeological and anthropological data. What was theory became unquestioned 
fact that was used to interpret and organize all subsequent data. It is time to end the 
“linguistic tyranny” that has prescribed interpretative frameworks of pre- and proto-his¬ 
toric cultural development in South Asia. (88) 

Shaffer complains that archaeological data can be artificially constrained to support com¬ 
monly held beliefs and presents the case of urbanization in the Northwest of the sub¬ 
continent as an example. As has been noted, it is generally held that the Vedic texts 
represent a nonurban pastoral society, in sharp contrast to the cities and towns of the 
Indus Valley. Scholars have generally postulated a distinct break of over a millennium 
between the urban centers of the Indus Valley and the reemergence of urbanization in 
the Gangetic Plain. This hiatus is taken to correspond neady to the period assigned to 
the arrival of the supposedly nonurban Aryan nomads sometime in the second millen¬ 
nium B.C.E. 

Shaffer (1993) refers to one set of data that undermines this simplistic portrayal of 
an apparent devolution and re-evolution of urbanization, which “has nearly become a 
South Asian archaeological axiom” (55). Although there appears to have been a definite 
shift in settlements from the Indus Valley proper in late and Post-Harappan periods, 
there is a significant increase in die number of sites in Gujarat, and an “explosion” 
(300 percent increase) of new settlements in East Punjab to accommodate the transferal 
of the population. Shaffer (1995) is insistent that “this shift by Harappan and, perhaps, 
other Indus Valley cultural mosaic groups is the only archaeologicaily documented west-to-east 
movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium 
B.C.” (139; italics in original). 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 233 

Moreover, although there is a general decrease in the size of tire settlements not all 
of these were small and insignificant in comparison with the large, complex structures 
of the Mature Harappan period. Data from Bahawalpur, the region in Pakistan most 
thoroughly surveyed, suggests an increase in size in the settlements of the Late Harappan 
period in comparison to the Harappan period (Shaffer 1993, 57). This is very signifi- 
cant: “More surveys have revealed large, post-Harappan settlements in the Indus region 
after the major Indus centres were abandoned. . . . Research ... is beginning to dem¬ 
onstrate that there really is no Dark Age isolating the protohistoric from the historic 
period” (Kenoyer 1987, 26). 7 

As with the BMAC culture, these data also problematize the notion that the Vedas 
know no urban centers and therefore must be Post-Harappan. If the Vedas are, in fact, 
silent regarding large settlements, it is not because of a lack of such settlements at the 
approximate time and place the hymns are assumed to have been composed (viz., Punjab 
in the mid-second millennium b.c.e.) because, as Shaffer has noted, settlements did 
not disappear; they simply shifted east. This would have been caused by the hydrologi¬ 
cal, ecological, and other factors mentioned previously that had struck sites farther west. 
Thus, there was “reorganization and expansion” (Kenoyer 1995, 234), but not dissolu¬ 
tion. And Pirac, we can recall, was a town of some size. 

Once it had become established lore that the Indo-Aryans had intruded into the 
subcontinent around the middle of the second millennium b.c.e., archaeologists natu¬ 
rally began looking for innovations in the archaeological record that could be used as 
evidence of their arrival. D. K. Chakrabarti (1968) decades ago voiced the by now famil¬ 
iar complaint among South Asian archaeologists that such an a priori precommitment 
blinkered and actually hampered proper examination of the archaeological material in 
its own light: “To what extent has this Aryan hypothesis contributed to a better under¬ 
standing of the relevant Indian archaeological data. 7 In two cases at least. . . the Painted 
Grey ware and Ahar cultures this seems to have actually distracted attention from the 
basic task of a proper evaluation and analysis of the cultures themselves” (358). 

The Aryans have not been pinpointed in the archaeological record with anything 
approaching general consensus among archaeologists. B. B. Lai, in his earlier work, 
demonstrated the inadequacy of other material cultures that had been identified as Aryan. 8 
B. K. Thapar (1970) undertook a similar process of elimination. There is more or less 
unanimous agreement among present-day Indian archaeologists that there is no mate¬ 
rial culture that can be identified with any incoming Aryans. Clearly, any proposals 
made in the past could only have appeared attractive, that is to say, less defective than 
other alternatives, because their advocates had embarked on their investigations with 
the assumption that the Aryans must have entered rhe subcontinent in the Late or Post- 
Harappan period and must, therefore, sooner or later correspond to some innovative 
archaeological entity. In Chakrabarti’s estimation, all claims of Aryan identification have 
been either much too general to be meaningful, 9 positively misleading, drawn from cul¬ 
tural assemblages sometimes separated by as much as several millennia, or connected 
to West Asia, from where not a single feature occurs in the supposedly corresponding 
Indian counterparts (Chakrabarti 1977b, 33-34). 

Other artifacts, often solitary pieces, such as the shaft-hole ax from a late level of 
Mohenjo-Daro, the Rajanpur sword, and the trunnion ax, all of which are considered 
to be non-Indian but have wide currency in Afghanistan, eastern Iran, and the Oxus, 

234 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

are also sometimes heralded as proof of an alien Indo-Aryan presence. Heine-Geldern 
(1936), an early forerunner in this regard, while admitting that “we may not as yet say 
with certainty whether these . . . shapes have been brought to India by trading inter¬ 
course or by an ethnical migration” (104), nonetheless was inclined to consider that 
“they were from a later date than the Indus civilization and possibly belonging to the 
Vedic age” (23). Chakrabarti (1977b) finds that they “may more satisfactorily be ex¬ 
plained as nothing more than what they apparendy are: isolated objects finding their 
way in through trade or some other medium of contact, not necessarily any population 
movement of historic magnitude” (31). He notes that prior to the artificial boundaries 
demarcated by the British, the southern part of the Oxus, eastern Iran, Afghanistan, 
and the Northwest of the subcontinent all constituted an area with significant economic 
and political interaction throughout the ages—a sphere of activity distinct from the Ira¬ 
nian heartland to the west and Gangetic India to the east. In such an economic and 
geopolitical zone, “any new significant cultural innovation in any one area between the 
Oxus and the Indus is likely to spread rapidly to the rest of this total area" (31). As far 
as he is concerned, “the archaeological data from the Indus system and the area to its 
west. . . . which have been interpreted as different types of diffusion from a vague and 
undefined West Asia are no more than the indications of mutual contact between the 
geographical components of this interaction sphere” (35). 

Chakrabarti also voices the by-now familiar complaint that Indian archaeology is overly 
dominated by diffusionism—a method of interpretation that views every innovation in 
the archaeological record as evidence of the movements of a particular people. B. Singh 
(1995) uses a modern example to better contextualize the potential interpretative ex¬ 
cesses resulting from this method: 

If we count the gradual increase of china in Indian houses during the recent decades, and 
sit down to judge as future archaeologists with as mechanical an approach as is evident 
among those who equate pottery with people, we would find the entire country suffused 
by a new people. The same inference would be drawn from the sudden popularity of 
stainless steel followed by aluminum alloy and the like. (137) 

Although such interpretations are no longer much in vogue elsewhere, the quest for 
elusive Indo-Aryan intruders ensured their survival for much longer in Indian archae¬ 
ology. Chakrabarti (1997b) believes such constraints have severely crippled the visual¬ 
ization of “protohistoric growth in inner India in its own terms, without any reference 
to the supposed multiple waves of people pouring in from the West” (35). The same 
could be said for the archaeological cultures generally associated with the Aryans on 
their supposed route from the Caspian Sea to the subcontinent. 

Erdosy (1995a), who is prepared to find “some support” for small-scale migrations 
associated with the intrusive BMAC elements noted earlier, nonetheless states: “Sev¬ 
eral cultural traits with good Vedic and Avestan parallels have been found widely dis¬ 
tributed between the southern Urals, Central Asia and the Indo-Iranian borderlands. 
However, even allowing for the uncertain chronology of Central Asian sites, few of these 
traits show the northwest-southeast gradient in chronology predicted by our linguistic 
models.” Rather, in the manner of other traits commonly associated with the “Aryans” 
within South Asia, “they originate in different places at different times and circulate 
widely, undoubtedly through the extensive interaction networks built up in the mid-3rd 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 235 

to early 2nd millennia B.C.” The main point is that “it is impossible, thus, to regard 
the widespread distribution of certain beliefs and rituals, which came to be adopted by 
Indo-Iranian speakers, as evidence of population movements” (12). 

Not surprisingly, this basic line of interpretation is favored by Indigenous Aryanists. 
Once the underlying equation that diachronic commonalties of the archaeological record 
in adjacent geographic areas equaling the physical movement of peoples has been brought 
into question, there is little to compel Indigenous Aryanists to accept the theory of the 
migrations of the Indo-Aryans from an archaeological perspective. S. P. Gupta’s two- 
volume survey (1979) on the archaeology of central Asia and the Indian borderlands, 
for example, also concludes that although artifacts from central Asia do occur sporadi¬ 
cally in the Indian borderlands and the Indus basin, this phenomenon can “best be 
interpreted in terms of exchanges” (318). He points out that none of the central Asian 
protohistoric cultures reached the Indus region in totality as would have been expected 
had large groups of Indo-Aryans been on the move. Along the same lines, a doctoral 
dissertation focused exclusively on ethnic movements in the second millennium b.c.e. 
between the Caspian Sea and the Indus basin concludes that “there is no case of the 
Aryan migration from West Asia to India in the first part of the second millennium 
b.c. If there is any case, the case is that of economic ties” (Kesarwani 1982, 312). 

A few points need to be made from the perspective of Aryan migrations, however. 
The fact that no satisfactorily consistent archaeological culture can be found stretching 
across central Asia or the steppes does not necessarily dispel the possibility that large 
numbers of people could nonetheless have been on the move. Anthony (1986) draws 
attention to an example from the historic period: the Helvetii. The migration of these 
people which was recorded by Caesar in some detail, involved the movement of a popu¬ 
lation mass said to have numbered 360,000 initially and found to number 110,000 in 
Caesar’s military census of the defeated remnant. According to Anthony (1986), “Even 
assuming a certain amount of exaggeration, this was a very substantial population 
movement and one that current Western archaeology theory would neither predict nor 
explain. Caesar’s account makes it clear that this was not a unique event” (300). The 
same can be said for the horse-riding Huns: “There is yet no answer to the question of 
what happened to the mortal remains of these fearful conquerors and their strange 
mounts. Hun domination was short-lived and if the dead were cremated and the horses’ 
bodies not put into the graves, the likelihood of finding their bones is necessarily lim¬ 
ited” (Sinor 1990, 203). Mallory (1989, 166) underscores the same point by noting the 
absence of archaeological evidence to substantiate the introduction of Gaelic into Scot¬ 
land in the fifth to sixth centuries A.D. 

Elsewhere, Mallory (1997) complains that the “argument of archaeological continuity 
could probably be supported for every IE-speaking region of Eurasia where any archaeolo¬ 
gist can effortlessly pen such statements as ‘while there may be some evidence for the 
diffusion of ideas, there is no evidence for the diffusion of population movement’” (104). 
India is not the only Indo-European-speaking area that has not revealed any archaeologi¬ 
cal traces of immigration. But the Indo-Europeans must have come from somewhere. If 
archaeology cannot confirm the trail of the Indo-Aryans, it cannot deny it either: 

The critical point is that language and ethnic shift can take place without radical change 
in the material particulars of life and with an amount of change in the gene pool so small 

236 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture 

as to be for all practical purposes undetectable. We should not replace the fallacy of as¬ 
signing all significant culture change to migration with the fallacy of thinking that lan¬ 
guage shift and the spread of new ethnic self-identification occur only with major or radi¬ 
cal cultural transformations. (Ehret 1988, 565) 

However, we must bear in mind that such arguments work both ways. They cannot be 
introduced to rebut the objections of those archaeologists working in Soudt Asia who 
see no evidence of Indo-European immigrations into the subcontinent, and then be 
denied to anyone choosing to argue for an emmigration of Indo-Europeans from the 
same subcontinent despite the lack of archaeological evidence. We must grant, how¬ 
ever, that there is at least a series of archaeological cultures that can be traced approach¬ 
ing the Indian subcontinent, even if discontinuous, which does not seem to be the case 
for any hypothetical east-to-west emigration. 


Postmodernism has impacted archaeology under the rubric of post-processualism, which 
holds that every reading or decoding of a text, including an archaeological text, is an¬ 
other encoding, since all truth is subjective. As Trigger (1995) notes, some scholars 
maintain that all archaeological interpretations are subjective constructions that are 
constrained scarcely, if at all, by archaeological data: 

The claim by archaeologists to be able to falsify interpretations on the basis of new evi¬ 
dence or by means of new techniques of analysis is dismissed by extreme relativists as an 
untenable manifestation of elitism and intellectual hegemony, which must be resisted 
with counterclaims that all interpretations of the past are subjective and hence there is no 
way to demonstrate that the insights of a professional archaeologist are necessarily supe¬ 
rior to those of anyone else. (276). 

The same, of course, could be said about linguistics. Trigger rejects such relativity and 
believes that as disciplines such as archaeology develop, they acquire a larger database 
and new methodologies that act as constraints on the imagination and excesses of scholarly 
interpretation. In the South Asian case, there seems to be a growing disjunct between 
philology and linguistics, on one hand, and archaeology, on the other, and this dichotomy 
seems to only increase as the database grows larger. 

There is little to conclude in this chapter that has not been stated or paralleled in the 
previous chapter. As with the central Asian material, innovative items in the archaeo¬ 
logical record can be seen either as items exchanged by trade and other forms of inter¬ 
action, perhaps between different economic groups such as pastoralists and agricultur¬ 
alists, as has always been the case on the subcontinent to this day. This interpretation 
seems favored by a significant number of South Asian archaeologists. Or, such items 
can be read as possible remanants of a new language group—the Indo-Aryan speakers— 
as others hold. Or there may well have been a linguistic intrusion which did not leave 
any distinct cultural remnants that could ever surface in the archaeological record. In¬ 
terpreting the archaeological evidence from within the subcontinent will, to a great ex¬ 
tent, reflect the attitude one holds toward the linguistic evidence outlined in the previ¬ 
ous chapters. 

Archaeological Evidence inside the Subcontinent 237 

Those who find die conclusions drawn from the linguistic evidence compelling will 
consider it legitimate to identify some of the archaeological cultures outlined in this 
chapter as evidence of an intruding linguistic group. R. S. Sharma (1998), in a barely 
veiled reference to Hindu nationalism, finds that “the commitment to cultural continu¬ 
ity .. . reminds us of the eternal sanatana dharma [eternal religion] propagated in present- 
day India” (95). I will discuss the Indian social context of all this in chapter 13. Sergent 
finds antimigrationist positions “obscurantist” and points out that India was invaded 
nine times in one millennium by Achemenides, Macedonians, Bactrians, Greeks, Sakas, 
Kusans, Sassanides, Yuezi, and Hephtalite Huns, just in antiquity. And then, of course 
came the Turks, Mongols, Afghans, Portugese, French, and British. How, then, he 
wonders, can one realistically deny invasions or migrations? What needs to be men¬ 
tioned here, however, is that these migrations are not quite adequate comparisons with 
any migrations that might be postulated for the Indo-Aryans because none of these groups 
eradicated the preexisting languages on the subcontinent as the Indo-Aryans are assumed 
to have done. They did, however, act as adstrata and superstrata, and consequently might 
have added loanwords or other linguistic features. I discussed the possible parallels to 
this in chapter 5. 

Those finding the linguistic evidence more inconclusive will, in the absence of com¬ 
pelling contrary proof from archaeology, likely be more inclined to at least consider the 
possibility of an indigenous Indo-Aryan language group in the Indian subcontinent with 
all that this entails. Those archaeologists who consider that much of the linguistic evi¬ 
dence supporting such migrations can be called into question are not likely to feel con¬ 
strained to interpret the archaeological record under these parameters unless the archaeo¬ 
logical evidence itself calls for such an interpretation in its own right. But this does not 
legitimate proclaiming that the theory of Aryan migrations has been disproved as some 
Indigenists feel entitled to do. Far from it: any and all of the archaeological cultures 
examined in this or the previous chapter could have corresponded to an intruding Indo- 
Aryan ethnic group. An Indigenous Aryan position can only hope to coexist with the 
Migrationist’s position, not displace it, at least on the grounds of the presently available 

But even this position has a corollary in addition to the fact that an Indigenist posi¬ 
tion requires that all the Indo-Europeans came from the Northwest of the subcontinent 
and its environs—for which no compelling evidence has yet been produced. If we allow, 
for arguments sake, that much of the linguistic and archaeological evidence is ambigu¬ 
ous, there is still a massive chronological obstacle to an Indigenous Aryan position. 
How far back could Indo-Aryan have existed on the subcontinent? Since all eternity? I 
conclude this chapter as I have several preceding ones: before we can explore any pos¬ 
sibility of a hoary Indo-Aryan language any further, we need to first direct our attention 
to the dating of the Veda, which is the topic of the next chapter. 


The Date of the Veda 

Everything hinges on the date of the Vedas. Indispensable support for the Indigenous 
position would result if the possibility of a much greater antiquity for the Vedic corpus 
could be convincingly demonstrated. Indeed, as I have noted in previous chapters, the 
Indigenous case actually loses plausibility unless such antiquity can be demonstrated. 
On the other hand, if, as some Indigenous Aryanists would have it, the Rgveda is a 
thousand or more years older than the date of 1500 b.c.e. presently assigned to it by 
most Indologists, a variety of issues will be affected. Since the Vedic horizons are solidly 
situated in the Northwest of the subcontinent, a much stronger case could be made 
supporting an Indo-Aryan presence in, or coexistence with, the Indus Valley Civiliza- 
tion, which shares much of the same horizons in approximately 2500-1900 b.c.e. The 
whole horse argument becomes less compelling whilst those promoting the SarasvatT 
evidence become vindicated. In addition, there would be very strong grounds for would- 
be decipherers to approach the script as containing an Indo-Aryan language. 

If the Rgveda is at least a millennium older than its commonly accepted date, then 
the possibility of Dravidian and/or Munda and/or unknown linguistic influences on 
Vedic Sanskrit being the result of the speakers of these languages intruding on an Indo- 
Aryan-speaking area after the other languages had already left, as opposed to vice versa, 
becomes a much more serious consideration. Moreover, the relationship between Vedic 
and Proto-Indo-European would need to be reconsidered. Any proposal associating the 
overland trajectory of the Indo-Aryans with the Andronovo culture, a southern Iranian 
route, or any Post-Harappan culture in the subcontinent loses value. For these and other 
reasons, a much older date for the Veda is foundational to the Indigenous position and 
is promoted almost universally by those adhering to this point of view (whether aware 
of all these implications or not). If by contrast, the oldest strata of the Rgveda cannot be 


The Date of the Veda 239 

far removed from the conventionally accepted date of 1200 or 1500 b.c.e. (or, with 
Witzel, even 1900 b.c.e.), then the Indigenous case looses cogency. Not far before the 
oldest strata of these texts is the joint Indo-Iranian period, which, in an Indigenist sce¬ 
nario, would have to be correlated with the Indus Valley Civilization proper if the con¬ 
ventional dates for the Rgveda are accepted; prior to that is the late proto-Indo-Euro¬ 
pean period, which would have to be contemporaneous with the pre- and early Harappan 
period. Neither of these propositions would attract the attention of serious scholars in 
the field for some of the reasons already outlined at length (apart from anything else, no 
one has attempted to reconstructed the Indo-lranians or late Indo-Europeans as urban 
dwellers living in such a sophisticated civilization). Indigenists, then, must demonstrate 
that the Rgveda could be at least a thousand, fifteen hundred, or even two thousand 
years older than has been generally accepted. 

Dating Proto-Indo-European 

Obviously, any dating for Indo-Aryan must be posterior to the terminus post quo date 
established for the undivided Proto-Indo-European language prior to its disintegration 
into the various cognate languages. The terminus ante quern date can be stated with 
some security: Anatolian is attested in Akkadian trading documents of about 1900 b.c.e. 
and is subsequently followed by the emergence of Hittite, Palaic, and Luwian in written 
texts. Indo-Aryan is attested in the Mitanni kingdom by 1600-1500 b.c.e., while Linear 
B Greek can be dated to 1300 b.c.e. So it is safe to assume, and is universally accepted, 
that by about 2000 b.c.e., Proto-Indo-European was already differentiated, and that Indo- 
Aryan was already a linguistic entity distinct from the Iranian speakers by 1600 b.c.e. 
at the latest. 

The terminus a quo is much more problematic. All commonly accepted dates have 
been based on archaeological finds—no linguistic means attempting to document the rate 
of language change has been proposed since the rejection of glottochronology as valid. 
Glottochronology was a method introduced by Swadesh, whereby a word list of one hundred 
common vocabulary items was drawn up (this was later increased to two hundred). The 
idea was that time periods could be assigned to the intervals between different stages of a 
language, or between cognate dialects and their mother tongue, depending on what per¬ 
centage of these lexical items had been preserved in the stages or dialects under compari¬ 
son and what percentage had been altered or changed. For example, by calculating the 
amount of change in these one or two hundred items between, say, the English of Chaucer 
and that of Shakespeare and correlating that percentage of change with the time known 
to have transpired between these two stages of English (and comparing this with similar 
calculations from other known stages of historical languages), an attempt can be made to 
establish a rough overall formula such as y percentage erf language change approximately 
equals x period of time. This formula might then theoretically be applicable in calculating 
the rate of change evidenced between unknown reconstructed pre- or protohistoric lan¬ 
guages and later known stages of these languages and hence provide approximate dates 
for a language such as Proto-Indo-European. 

The idea is actually ingenious and seemed very promising until it was pointed out 
that languages do not change at standard rates. Lithuanian, for example, preserves very 

240 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

archaic Indo-European features to this very day. The method was accordingly discarded 
as unreliable by most linguists. Recently, however, Starostin (1 999) has attempted to 
revive the method. He maintains that Swadesh’s method should not be jettisoned but 
improved in a variety of ways (such as using roots, rather than words, as comparisons 
since roots tend to have better retention rates). Pejros (1999), too, sees value in fine- 
tuning the method of gluttochronology (with more carefully formulated word lists). 

Because, in the absence of dateable inscriptions, there are no other ways accessible 
to linguistics that can be used to date languages, Indo-Europeanists defer to archaeol¬ 
ogy. However, the archaeological method of dating languages is predicated on the clues 
offered by linguistic paleontology, so the data invoked to date the protolanguage assume 
some validity to this method. Since at least the time of Otto Schrader (1890), scholars 
have pointed out that there are cognate words in various languages for copper (Sanskrit 
ayas), but none for bronze or iron. Proto-Indo-European is accordingly deduced to have 
preceded the Bronze Age and Iron Age, but to have corresponded to the Copper Age. 
This evidence entails accepting a date for the differentiation of the Indo-European lan¬ 
guages earlier than the attestation of bronze—4500 b.c.e. for arsenic-copper alloys, and 
at least 3500 b.c.e. for copper tin bronzes (Mallory 1975, 32)—and later than the attes¬ 
tation of copper, which is known in Europe since 5500 b.c.e. (Mallory 1975, 31). Thus 
this method will lead us to a date between 5500 and 3500 b.c.e. for an undivided (and 
therefore pre-Indo-Aryan) Proto-Indo-European 

Historically, the domestication of the horse has been another often-cited chronologi¬ 
cal indicator on the grounds outlined in chapter 6. Anthony, Telegin, and Brown (1991) 
have proposed a date as early as 4000 b.c.e. for domestication based on the discovery 
of bit wear on horse premolars discovered in the Sredni Stog site of Dereivka. How¬ 
ever, since, as has been discussed, many linguists have challenged the assertion that the 
IE’s necessarily knew a domesticated horse rather than some other type of equid, the 
reliability of this data can be questioned. In a more recent article, Anthony (1995a) 
relies more heavily on the evidence of the wheel to make his case. He argues that the 
PIE’s were undoubtedly familiar with wheeled vehicles, since at least six different terms 
have been reconstructed: three for ‘wheel’, one for ‘axle’, one for ‘thill’, and a verbal 
root meaning to ‘convey in a vehicle’ (there is no shared root for ‘spoke’, which could 
suggest that this development was a later technology). Wheeled technology appears be¬ 
tween 3300 and 3100 b.c.e. in four different media in Europe and the Near East. 1 
Anthony (1994) accordingly concludes that this evidence “requires a dispersal no ear¬ 
lier than about 3300 b.c. (192). If this reasoning is valid, it sets some kind of a termi¬ 
nus a quo for Indo-Aryan as a differentiated speech community. 

Some major assumptions are embedded here that one must accept before agreeing 
with this conclusion. First, one must be comfortable with the techniques and efficacy of 
archaeological dating. Next, one must allow some validity to the method of linguistic 
paleontology which, as we have discussed, has been severely criticized by linguists. Ob¬ 
jections can be raised against almost any diagnostic piece of Indo-European culture that 
might be correlatable with the archaeological record. Coleman (1998), for example, who 
is sympathetic to Renfrew’s critique of this method, notes that there are four different 
roots for the wheel in the Indo-European languages. This suggests to him that “it looks 
as if ‘wheel’ was not in the proto-lexicon and the various words for it were created in¬ 
dependently after the dispersal, in some areas no doubt by loan-translation from adja- 

The Date of the Veda 241 

cent Indo-European dialects/languages” (451). Along similar lines, D’iakonov (1985) 
states that “some processes in which rotating was required were known to mankind 
since Palaeolithic times, and we do not necessarily have to associate them with the wheel; 
and it has yet to be clarified if the terms for ‘wheel, chariot’ were not used in an earlier 
period for ‘potter’s wheel.’” (11 3) I have noted how Lehmann and other linguists have 
raised parallel arguments about the horse evidence. 

A further assumption one must accept is that the first occurrence of an artifact in 
the archaeological record is indicative of its actual date and locus of invention. 2 Anyone 
viewing this as an act of faith is likely to remain unconvinced by dates based on the 
conjunction of archaeology with linguistic paleontology. I have discussed how in the 
Indian context, at least, the spoked wheel was undoubtedly present for a full millen¬ 
nium or so before surfacing archaeologically, and probably much longer. Be all this as 
it may, (and most Indo-Europeanists are not unaware of these problems) when other 
factors known to linguistic paleontology and archaeology such as ‘plows’, ‘milk’, ‘wool’, 
and ‘silver’ arc factored in along the same lines—most scholars have resigned themselves 
to a bracket of about 4500-2500 b.c.e. for the period of the dispersal. 

There have been a number ot notable exceptions. As noted, Renfrew has scant regard 
for linguistic paleontology and proposed situating the beginning of the Indo-European 
dispersal at around 6000 b.c.e. (in order to coincide with the evidence for the spread 
of farming). Other scholars have objected. For example, Crossland (1988, 453) points 
out that such a time frame would require supposing that the first Greek and Hittite 
texts had been written four thousand years after the initial breakup of the Indo-European 
languages, and the first Lithuanian and Albanian texts nearly seventy-five hundred years 
thereafter. As far as he is concerned, on this time scale one would expect far greater 
linguistic diversity in Indo-European than is the case. He draws attention to the diver¬ 
sity among the Romance languages in somewhat less than two thousand years from 
their point of origin as a comparable parallel. 

Whether or not the diversity among the Romance languages is at all comparable to 
the degree of diversity between Greek and Hittite is debatable, and Renfrew (1988) is 
unswayed by all such arguments and challenges his critics to “substantiate more se¬ 
curely their ‘hunch’ that the proposed time scale is too long”. He notes that, after all, 
“all agree that the supposedly regular divergence rates proposed by the practitioners of 
glottochronology are to be rejected” (463). Renfrew (1990) has continued to defend this 
position adamantly: “Many linguists have commented that these proposed dates of sepa¬ 
ration are ‘too early,' but how ... do they know this, or judge this?” (19). As will be 
discussed later, there are no convincing criteria to determine the conditions in which 
conservatism might prevail in a language and over what time period. Earlier, Crossland 
(1972) himself had made the following comment: 

It is disappointing to have to say that at present there seems to be no hope of estimating 
objectively and with a useful degree of precision how long an originally homogeneous 
Indo-European language would have taken to develop into derivative groups or languages 
which diverged as much as Greek, Sanskrit and Hittite did when the earliest texts in 
them were composed. Some linguists seem to think that they can make intuitive judge¬ 
ments about the minimum time which a particular phonetic or other change in a lan¬ 
guage would have taken. But the results of intuition when applied to estimating the mini¬ 
mum time in which a group of cognate languages or dialects would have differentiated to 

242 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

an observed extent vary so much that no useful deductions can be made from them. . . . 

I sympathize with archaeologists and other prehistorians who are not primarily linguists 
over this. Linguists are unable to provide the information which would be most useful. 

Other archaeologists have also argued that the whole reason scholars have failed to 
identify the Indo-Europeans or their homeland is because they are looking in a tempo¬ 
ral bracket that is far too late: some archaeologists believe that the dispersal of the Proto- 
Indo-Europeans took place in the much earlier Mesolithic or even Paleolithic (Thomas 
1982, 84). Linguists have also argued for a far greater antiquity. Dolgopolsky (1990- 
93), in contradistinction to Coleman, unambiguously rejects a post-4500 b.c.e. date, 
since “Mallory’s dating, which presupposes that Proto-Anatolian, Proto-Indo-Iranian, 
Greek and other descendant languages could have diverged from each other for a mere 
2000 years, is absolutely inconceivable” (239). While well aware of the inadequacy of 
the glottochronological medaod, Dolgopolsky nonetheless tries to illustrate his argument 
by pointing out that all the Germanic languages, over a comparable time depth of two 
thousand years, maintained cognates for the same Germanic word for the term ‘hand’ 
(German hand; Icelandic hond, etc.). Likewise, all the Slavic languages maintain cog¬ 
nates for their word for hand, *roka, as do the Romance languages for manu. In con¬ 
trast, over the same time period of 2000 years, the Indo-European languages have not 
maintained cognates for one proot-Indo-European term for hand, but developed five 
distinct terms for dais basic item of vocabulary. This is conspicuous since body parts are 
often the most change-resistant items in a vocabulary. In other words, “if the degree of 
closeness between proto-Germanic, proto-Balto-Slavic, proto-Indo-Iranian and other 
daughter languages of Indo-European were comparable to that of the modern Germanic 
languages, we should expect to find the same word for ‘hand’ in all descendent proto¬ 
languages of the Indo-European family, i.e., no cases of replacement. The reality is quite 
different: we find no less than five cases of replacement” (239). According to Dolgopolsky, 
a 4500 b.c.e. time frame is “utterly unrealistic.” 

Dolgopolsky, believes the terms for material culture commonly used to date Proto- 
Indo-European, such as copper, horse, and wheeled vehicles, cannot be reconstructed 
in the Anatolian languages and therefore belong to a later, post-Hittite Indo-European 
and not Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European, accordingly, did not know all these 
items, since it was much earlier. He reiterates the arguments outlined previously, sug¬ 
gesting that the horse known to the Proto-Indo-European’s was not the domesticated 
but the wild variety, and claims that the word *ayes did not originally refer to copper 
but to metal in general, and it may then later have been transferred to copper in some 
countries when this metal entered common usage: “Hence none of these words can 
serve as evidence for dating Proto-IE” (Dolgopolsky 1990-93, 241). As noted earlier, 
these same arguments have been raised by several linguistics (Coleman 1988; D’iakonov 
1988). Dixon (1997) voices similar misgivings: 

What has always filled me with wonder is the assurance with which many historical lin¬ 
guists assign a date to their reconstructed proto-language. . . . We are told that proto-Indo- 
European was spoken about 6,000 years ago. What is know with a fair degree of certainty 
is the time between proto-1 ndo-Aryan and the modern Indo-Aryan languages—something 
in the order of .3,000 years. But how can anyone tell that the development from proto- 
Indo-European to proto-Indo-Aryan took another 3,000 years? . . . Languages are known 

The Date of the Veda 243 

to change at different rates. There is no way of knowing how long it ook to go from the 
presumed homogeneity of proto-Indo-European to the linguistic diversity of proto-Indo- 
Iranian, proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic, etc. The changes could have been rapid or slow. 

We simply don’t know. . . .Why couldn’t proto-Indo-European have been spoken about 
10,500 years ago? . . . The received opinion of a date of around 6000 BP for proto-Indo- 
European ... is an ingrained one. 1 have found this a difficult matter to get specialists to 
even discuss. Yet it does seem to be a house of cards. (47-49) 

Zimmer (1988), who prefers a relatively much later date, states: “It must be stressed, 
and cannot be said often enough, that whatever date is given for ‘PIE,’ it is necessarily no 
more than pure speculation” (372). Zimmer does not mince his words: “Every attempt, 
then, to give absolute dates for ‘Proto-Indo-European’ (or dates for alleged different stages 
of‘PIE’) is either based on the speculative identification of an archaeological culture with 
the speakers of the ‘language of the PIE’s’ (e.g. Gimbutas, Renfrew, Mallory) or on what 
may be called ‘intelligent guesses,’ deliberations of probability and feelings of appropriate¬ 
ness (e.g. Meid, Gamkrelidze-Ivanov)” (372). This results in problems all around: “The 
first type of proposal is usually contested by fellow archaeologists and doubted by lin¬ 
guists, the second, being purely subjective because objective arguments simply do not exist, 
is bound to remain noncommittal. As is easily to be seen, many dates of both types have 
found their way to an often for too skeptical public” (372). Accordingly, “It is therefore 
historically irresponsible for the linguist to speak of‘Proto-Indo-European’ in the 4th millen¬ 
nium, and linguistically meaningless for the archaeologist to argue about ‘Proto-Indo-Europeans’ 
living somewhere before ca 2500 b.c.” (374-375; italics in original). In short, these Indo- 
European dating conjectures serve as a backdrop to the chronology of the lndo-Aryans. 

Dating the Veda 

It is from widtin this framework that one must negotiate the date of the Rgveda, which 
is the oldest record of the lndo-Aryans apart from the few scanty words revealed in the 
Mitanni documents. An exceedingly prominent area of contention among almost all 
scholars who have argued for the autochthony of the Aryan speakers in India is the late, 
and perceived arbitrary, date that has been assigned to the Vedic texts by most Western 
scholars. Such consensus was not always the case. Almost a century ago, Winternitz 
([1907] 1962) was refreshingly forthright about the lack of agreement regarding even 
the approximate date of the Veda: “It is a fact, and a fact which it is truly painful to 
admit, that the opinions of the best scholars differ, not to the extent of centuries, but to 
the extent of thousands of years, with regard to the age of the Rg Veda. Some lay down 
the year 1000 b.c. as the earliest limit for the Rg Vedic hymns, while others consider 
them to have originated between 3000 and 2500 b.c.” (253). Despite such differences 
of opinion in this matter, evenmally, communi consensu, the Indological community 
settled on 1200 b.c.e. as the probable date for the compilation of the Rgveda-a date 
that has remained standard to this day. As opponents never tire of pointing out, “it was 
Max Muller who put forth the hypothesis . . . that the Rgveda began to be composed in 
1200 b.c.” (Varma 1984, 2). 

Muller based his calculations on information he gleaned partly from the Kathasaritsagara, 
a collection of stories written in the twelfth century c.E. by Somadeva. In one of these 

244 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

stories, we find a Katyayana Vararuchi, who was reported to have eventually become a 
minister in the court of King Nanda. Since, in the Puranas, Nanda is the predecessor of 
the Mauryas, Muller assigned him a date in the second half of the fourth century B.C.E., 
shortly before the accepted date for this dynasty. 5 In brief, Muller felt he now had a 
reasonably secure date for Katyayana Vararuci. His next step was to correlate this 
Katyayana with a Katyayana who was said to have authored a variety of sutras. 4 Since 
other sutras were both anterior and posterior to this latter Katyayana, to whom he had 
assigned a date in the fourth century b.c.e., Muller ([1859] 1968) decided that “as an 
experiment, therefore, though as no more than an experiment, we propose to fix the 
years 600 and 200 b.c. as the limits of that age during which the Brahmanic literature 
was carried on in die strange style of Sutras” (218). 

Preceding the sutras are the Brahmana portions of the Vedic texts (since the latter 
are presupposed by the former). Regarding these, Muller ([1859] 1968) considered that 
“it would seem impossible to bring the whole within a shorter space dran 200 years. Of 
course this is merely conjectural” (395). Conjectural or nett, the Brahmanas, in Muller’s 
schema, are consequently assigned a date from 800 to 600 b.c.e., “although it is more 
likely that hereafter these limits will have to be extended” (406). Older still than the 
Brahmanas are the Mantras, which, in turn, are anterior to the Chandas so, since he 
seemed to be on a roll with these concise 200-year brackets, Muller felt that “if we as¬ 
sign but 200 years to the Mantra period, from 800 to 1000 B.c., and an equal number 
to the Chandas period, from 1000 to 1200 b.c., we can do so only under the supposi¬ 
tion that during the early periods of history the growth of the human mind was more 
luxuriant than in later times" (525). As Winternitz ([19071 1962) points out, “it is at 
the fixing on these purely arbitrary 1 dates that the untenable part of Max Muller’s calcu¬ 
lations begins” (255). 

Reaction to Muller’s perfectly synchronized, two-hundred-year periods for the develop¬ 
ment of these different genres of literature was not slow in coming. Goldstiicker ([I860] 

1965) objected that “neither is there a single reason to account for his allotting 200 years 
to the first of his periods, nor for his doubling this amount of time in the case of the Sutra 
period” (80). He points out that, ultimately, “rite whole foundation of Muller’s date rests 
on the authority of Somadeva . . . [who) narrated his tales in the twelfth century after Christ 
[and] would not be a little surprised to learn that ‘a European point of view’ raises a ‘ghost 
story' of his to the dignity of an historical document” (91). Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire (1861) 
remonstrated that “Mr. Max Muller would have done well not to have fixed things so 
precisely, and not to have circumscribed things so neatly” (54; my translation). H. H. 
Wilson (1860) joined in the cacophony of objections to Muller’s methodology: 

We must confess that we are disposed to look upon this limit [two hundred years for the 
Brahmanas] as much too brief for the establishment of an elaborate ritual, for the appro¬ 
priation of all the spiritual authority by the Brahmans, for the distinctions of races or the 
institutions of caste, and for the mysticism and speculation of the Aranyakas or Upanishads: 
a period of five centuries would not seem to be too protracted for such a complete remod¬ 
elling of the primitive system and its wide dissemination through all those parts of India 
where the Brahmans have spread. (376) 

Buhler (1894), utilizing evidence from ancient Jain and Buddhist sources, found it in¬ 
conceivable that “the ancient Indians raced through the so-called Chandas, Mantra and 

The Date of the Veda 245 

Brahmana periods at a furiously fast pace” (246). Jacobi (1884) constructs a scenario to 
give a better conceptual image of the mechanics and time span involved in oral trans¬ 
mission in the days long before computer technology and electronic media: 

It is easy to see that this estimate [i.e., two hundred years] is far below the minimum of 
the possible period, during which in India a department of literature could take its rise, 
reach perfection, become obsolete and die out, to give place finally to a thoroughly new 
departure. For a Brahmana, for example, could only be widely spread by being learned 
by heart by a gradually extending circle of Brahmanas, and with the size of the country 
this would certainly demand a long time. Every man, who learned such a work, became, 
so to say, a copy of it. . . . But several of such works must successively take the place of 
their predecessors, before the entire class of works in question becomes obsolete. I main¬ 
tain that a minimum of a thousand years must rather be taken for such a process, which 
in the conditions that prevailed in ancient India was of necessity a very slow one, espe¬ 
cially when we take into consideration that in historical times die literature of the classi¬ 
cal period remained for more than a thousand years unaltered. (158) 

Each of the periods between the different genres of literature would have required at 
least a millennium to develop, spread, and become obsolete for Jacobi, who, as we will 
see, had argued for a fourth millennium date for the Rgveda. (Of course, the assign¬ 
ment of one thousand years to these periods is as arbitrary as Muller’s two hundred 
years.) Winternitz (1907), too, felt that since “all the external evidence fails, we are 
compelled to rely on the evidence out of the history of Indian literature itself, for the age 
of the Veda. . . . We cannot, however, explain the development of the whole of this 
great: literature, if we assume as lare a date as round about 1200 or 1500 b.c. as its 
starting point. We shall probably have to date the beginning of this development about 
2000 or 2500 b.c.” (310; italics in the original). 

Max Muller (1892), who hastily acknowledged that he had only considered his date 
for the Veda a terminus ad quern, completely submitted to his detractors; “I need hardly 
say that I agree with almost every word of my critics. I have repeatedly dwelt on the 
hypothetical character of the dates. . . . All I have claimed for them has been that they 
are minimum dates . . . Like most Sanskrit scholars, I feel that 200 years ... are scarcely 
sufficient to account for the growth of the poetry and religion ascribed to the Khandas 
period” (xiv-xv). A few years later, at the end of his long and productive life, he again 
acknowledged the complete arbitrariness of his previous calculations: “Whether the Vedic 
hymns were composed 1000, or 1500, or 2000, or 3000 years b.c., no power on earth 
will ever determine” (Muller 1891,91). Elsewhere, Midler (1897, 87) was quite happy 
to consider a date of 3000 b.c.e. based on Sayce’s discovery of two Babylonian ideo¬ 
graphs—cloth + vegetable fiber (which Sayce believed was cotton)—that had to be pro¬ 
nounced ‘sindhu. This suggested that the Babylonians knew of the river Sindhu and, 
by extension, since he considered this word to be Sanskrit, the Indo-Aryan-speaking 
people, in 3000 b.c.e. 

However, despite Muller’s willing retraction of his hasty attempt at chronology: 

It became a habit already censured by W. D. Whitney, to say that Max Muller had proved 
1200-1000 B.c. as the date of the Rg Veda. It was only timidly that a few scholars, like 
L. von Schroeder ventured to go as far back as 1 500 or even 2000 b.c. And when all at 
once, H. Jacobi attempted to date Vedic literature back to the third millenary B.c. on the 
grounds of astrological calculations, scholats Taised a great outcry at such heretical proce- 

246 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

dure. . . . Strange to say it has been quite forgotten on what a precarious footing stood 
the “opinion prevailing hitherto,” which was so zealously defended. (Winternitz [1907] 
1962 256) 

Whitney ([1874] 1987) had made a point of mentioning that Muller himself had made 
no pretensions that his dates had “in any essential manner contributed to the final 
settlement of the question.” But his concern is that Muller “is in danger of being mis¬ 
understood as doing so; we have already more than once seen it stated that ‘Muller has 
ascertained the date of the Vedas to be 1200-1000 b.c.’” (78). Winternitz (1907), too, 
hastened to note that “Max Muller himself did not really wish to say more than that 
such an interval at least must be assumed. . . . He always considered his date of 1200- 
1000 B.c. only as a terminus ad quern” (293). 

These exchanges have been presented in some detail not merely on account of their 
historical interest: Mtiller’s initial calculation (albeit no longer for the same reasons) is 
still the cornerstone of Vedic dating. As Varma (1984) states, “it is amazing to note that 
all the supporters of the date 1200-1000 b.c. for the Veda very conveniently ignore the 
caution which Max Muller had initially observed” (6). Indeed, we find present-day 
scholars stating that “Max Muller’s chronological estimate, though not devoid of weak 
points, has . . . often been more or less tacitly regarded as nearest the mark. ... As far as 
the Rgveda is concerned [his] computation is not unreasonable” (Gonda 1975, 22). 

To be fair, there are more substantial reasons that have been brought forward to 
support Muller’s initial formulations. There are philological clues that can be connected 
with archaeology, although these, too, can be brought into question. A summary of 
some of the issues raised in the previous chapter is relevant at this point in connection 
with their usefulness for dating. The argument that tire Rgveda knows no urban centers 
and therefore postdates the Indus Valley Civilization is problematic since archaeology 
has revealed large late and Post-Harappan urban settlements exactly where and when 
the Aryans are supposed to have been entering. Besides, the Aryans either would have 
passed through the BMAC if they entered via the northern route or were the authors 
of that urban culture (according to a number of scholars) and established urban centers 
along a southern route, if we are to follow Sarianidi. So the Rgveda is not silent about 
urban centers due to the Indo-Aryan’s ignorance of them. Moreover, several scholars 
have proposed that nomadic and urban cultures must always have, by necessity, coexisted. 

Along the same lines, it has been argued that the absence of horse bones and of the 
chariot does not have to be synonymous with absence of the Indo-Aryans themselves. 
Indeed, the chariot is not attested archaeologically until a full millennium after it was 
indisputably present in South Asia, so the archaeological record has its limitations. From 
the Indigenous Aryan side, the references to the Sarasvatl have been produced in sup¬ 
port of a greater antiquity for the text through this philoarchaeological method as have 
the less convincing references to the fire altars (although these too can be challenged). 

However, there is a more important datable item that is first mentioned in the 
Atharvaveda (11.3.7; 9.5.4) and again in the Satapatha Brahmana: krsna ayas, black 
metal/bronze’ namely, iron. 5 Smelted iron first appears in the archaeological record in 
a variety of places by the thirteenth to tenth century B.C.E.— including the Deccan 
(Chakrabarti [1997a] notes that the iron in inner India is attested earlier than in the 
northwestern borderlands). The mention of iron in these texts is as solid a chronologi- 

The Date of the Veda 247 

cal indicator as one can expect in the reconstruction of protohistory and cannot be 
cursorily dismissed. Moreover, the dates for iron in India are in sync with the dates for 
this metal attested in central Asia and Iran: if anything, the Indian context is the earli¬ 
est and most likely to have influenced the others (Koshelenko 1986, 73). Even if, with 
Dikshit (1985), we push this back to a highest possible terminus a quo bracket of 1500 
B.C.E., we have a significant terminus post quo basis for arguing that these texts were 
written after the attestation of iron, by the same logic and method, discussed earlier, 
that has convinced most IE’ists to require that the Indo-Europeans were a united entity 
during the Copper Age but before the Bronze Age. One would have difficulty on philo¬ 
logical grounds, accordingly, in placing the Rgveda, too much earlier than the Atharvaveda, 
since the language of this text, although later, is not sufficiently different to warrant an 
interval of too many centuries. The iron evidence supports the consensus that will place 
the date of the Rgveda somewhere within a 1900-1200 b.c.e. bracket. 

This bracket seems to be justified, provided we can be assured that the krsna ayas of 
the texts refers to smelted iron objects and not to iron ore. After all, krsna ayas simply 
means ‘black metal.’ As has been discussed previously, while there is no evidence of 
smelted iron in Harappa, iron ore has been found in eight sites, and household items 
have been made from it. In Mundigak, five iron items dated between 2600 and 2100 
b.c.e . 6 were found, including a copper/bronze bell with an iron clapper, two iron “but¬ 
tons” on a copper/bronze rod, an iron button on a copper/bronze mirror, and two 
indistinct lumps of “carbonates of iron” (Possehl 1999b, 159). Some of these seem to 
be items of everyday use. Ocher sites have revealed: Said Qala Tepe, “ferrous lumps’ 
(2700-2300 b.c.e.); Ahar two iron arrow heads (ca. 1275 b.c.e.); Chanhu-Daro, an 
“iron artifact” (context questionable); Mohenjo-Daro, some lollingite (an iron bearing 
mineral that may have been used in copper smelting); Lothal, a fragmentary piece of 
metal (2500-1800 b.c.e.); and Katelai Graveyard in the Swat Valley, a single piece of 
iron (1500-1800). 

In actual fact, it has even yet to be discounted that some of these might have been 
even smelted: “None has been analyzed to determine their technical properties and we 
do not known which of them is meteroic and which (if any) were smelted” (Possehl, 
1999b). Either way, items made of black metal go back to the Bronze Age in Harappa, 
whether or not they were smelted. This does somewhat minimize the persuasiveness of 
the 1100 b.c.e. date for the Atharvaveda on the ground that it refers to krsna ayas. The 
black metal could have been accidentally encountered as a by-product of the smelting of 
copper, manipulated in some of the ways noted here, and referred to as the ‘black’ ayas. 
Moreover, since the Rgveda knows no iron, one should not be surprised if the listed 
items surface in Indigenous discourse as proof that the Rgvedic Aryans must have ex¬ 
isted in the area before such awareness of iron since their texts do not mention this 

Moreover, 1 have encountered the argument that we must consider the possibility 
that the word krsna ‘black’ was inserted in the texts at a later period to qualify the term 
for bronze. The rationale here is that the older versions of these texts may have origi¬ 
nally contained simply the word ayas, meaning metal or bronze, and krsna was added as 
a supplement to the original wording in later redactions of the text after krsna ayas ‘black 
bronze’ had been discovered and was becoming a more commonly available metal. The 
original recension of the text, however, could have been handed down through the cen- 

2 48 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

tunes from a period much older than this discovery in 1100 b.c.e., at which time the 
metal referred to by the text could have been bronze. Although this possibility might 
appear to be a case of special pleading, it must be kept in mind. After all, it has been 
argued (e.g., Dolgopolsky 1990-93) that *ayes originally simply referred to metal in Proto- 
Indo-European times, and that the word was transferred to bronze at a later point when 
this metal became widely utilized by the Indo-Europeans. Such semantic transferrals are 
quite common. So it is possibile that the older texts knew only bronze, which was then 
modified to iron in the course of oral transmission. This would simply involve adding 
something rather titan changing an existing word in a sacred text. 

This explanation, however, which might work for the prose Satapatha Brahmana, 
does not work so well for the Atharvaveda, which is in meter. Any inserted word would 
disrupt metered verse. Since I have noted in the conclusions to previous chapters that 
the Indigenous Aryan position can remain cogent only if the Indo-Aryan language can 
be argued to have had a great antiquity, if a date shortly prior to the discovery of smelted 
iron is proved to be indisputable, the Indigenous Aryan argument loses cogency. There¬ 
fore, the iron evidence must be questioned by those supporting this point of view. 

Chakrabarti (who has written extensively on iron in both literary and archaeological 
contexts) argues (1986) that one should be wary of “underlining a particular set of ar¬ 
chaeological data and arguing that these data conform to a particular section of the Vedic 
literary corpus without at all trying to determine how this hypothesis will affect the other 
sets of the contemporary archaeological data and other sections of the Vedic corpus” 
(74). If iron is to be extracted as a chronological indicator, it must be juxtaposed with 
other indicators. Chakrabarti produces another reference from the same text in an at¬ 
tempt to counter the implications of the iron evidence: 

Another instance which comes readily to mind is the reference in the Satapatha Brahmana 
to the spread of agriculture in the Sadanira or Gandak river valley. . . . agriculture was 
well established in the Gandak valley as early as the third millennium B.c. The SB tradi¬ 
tion apparently contains a dim protohistoric memory. To fix this text within the straight- 
jacket of a late date (c. 700 B.c.) is surely not a logical exercise. (74) 

Chakrabarti does not state his reference, but he presumably is referring to the same 
verse quoted in chapter 3, which describes the first arrival of agnt, fire, on the other 
side of the Sadanira River. Chakrabarti seems to be arguing that agriculture requires 
knowledge of fire to prepare the land: if agriculture was on the other side of this river 
in the third millennium b.c.e., then so must fire have been. Accordingly, the Satapatha 
Brahmana must date back to at least the third millennium b.c.e. 

In terms of argumentum ex silentio, Sethna (1981) has written a whole book predi¬ 
cated on the fact that since the Vedas do not mention cotton, and cotton is known 
from Harappan times onward, then the Vedas must be pre-Harappan. 7 Southworth 
(1988, 663) uses the same lacuna to draw the opposite conclusion, namely, that the fact 
that the earliest Vedic texts do not mention cotton—nor, for that matter, wheat, dates, 
sesamum, and rice, all of which are present from Harappan times onward—suggests 
that the early Indo-Aryans were unaware of such things and so must be post-Harappan. 
Philoarchaeology, then, like everything else, can be used to support different conten¬ 
tions depending on different presuppositions and cannot easily solve the problem of 

The Dace of the Veda 249 

Vedic chronology to everyone’s satisfaction (especially since the texts are not catalogues 
of agricultural products). 

Ultimately, all that can be authoritatively established about the chronology of the 
Vedic corpus (viz., Sarhhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and the earliest Upanisads) is that 
it preceded the Buddhist literature that refers to it. Such a terminus ad quern seems 
reasonable. But one of the main rationales offered for establishing an initial date for 
the composition of the Rgveda is the entrance of the Indo-Aryans themselves into the 
subcontinent, since “the determination of the terminus a quo is closely connected with 
. . . the vexed problem of the time at which the Aryans arrived in India” (Gonda, 1975, 
20). And this is clearly not accepted as an a priori fact by the subjects of this study. 
Since conventional scholarship has assigned the Aryan arrival in India to about 1500 
b.c.e., Max Miiller’s date of 1200 b.c.e. for the composition of the Rgveda remains 
acceptable to most Indologists. This allows an interval of three hundred years for the 
Aryans to settle down in the Panjab and completely forget about their overland saga. 
Needless to say, since the whole Aryan arrival is questioned by the Indigenous Aryan 
school, any date for the Veda predicated on proposed dates for supposed Indo-Aryan 
movements is, by extension, considered unacceptable. 

The Avesta, as we have seen, anchors its chronology on the same Indo-Aryan migra¬ 
tions, so it is in no position to otter any extraneous assistance. Moreover, as Gonda 
(1975) notes, “besides the uncertain date of the Avesta, the cases of cultural, stylistic 
and lexicographical parallelism between texts of this description do not necessarily point 
to simultaneity” (21). The same can be said for the Mitanni treaty, generally dated to 
the sixteenth century b.c.e. Here we do have archaeologically datable evidence for the 
Indo-Aryan language. The Mitanni treaty' provides additional evidence that fits smoothly 
with a date of about 1500 b.c.e. for the Veda in India: some Indo-Aryans settled in the 
Near East shortly before, or while, others were settling in India. However, the same 
arguments could be raised here: the parallels between the Mitanni documents and that 
of the Veda also do not necessarily demonstrate simultaneity. The case of modern 
Lithuanian, which has preserved very archaic Indo-European features into the modern 
period despite being separated from the protolanguage by so many millennia, demon¬ 
strates that the Mitanni could, likewise, have preserved Vedic forms that may have been 
much more ancient than the second half of the second millennium b.c.e. And Misra, 
(1992) we may recall, holds that the language revealed in the treaty contains Middle 
Indo-Aryan forms and could therefore be much later than the Rgveda. Of course, this 
view is by no means a fait accompli, there are other ways of interpreting the evidence, 
but it cannot be rejected as a possibility. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a few words 
in these documents, which does not allow us to document the full degree of correspon¬ 
dence between the Indo-Aryan of the Mitanni and that of the Rgveda. 8 Those arguing 
for a greater antiquity for the Vedic texts will in all events have to argue that the Indo- 
Aryan language maintained unusual linguistic stability over a vast period. 

Woolner (1986, 80) provides some parallels for this: he notes that in Egyptian records, 
the lapse of a thousand years made little difference to language and style, the language 
of King Sargon in the Assyrian records appears to be much the same as that of Nebuchad¬ 
nezzar about two millennia later, and even Chinese has changed relatively slowly dur¬ 
ing the last two thousand years, apart from phonetic decay. He acknowledges however 

250 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

that this may be representative of the stability of the script rather than the underlying 
phonetic system, or it may indicate a fixed literary language, which could be expected to 
remain more stable than a folk one. Nonetheless, Woolner is clearly unconvinced by 
the assumptions underpinning the date commonly assigned to the Vedas and attempts 
to undermine this by means of analyzing the often-cited claim, first suggested by Geldner, 
that the difference between the Avestan and Vedic dialects is no more than that be¬ 
tween any two Romance languages. 9 

While pointing out a variety of assumptions and pitfalls involved in his exercise, 
Woolner nonetheless proceeds to compare Spanish and Italian versions of the psalms 
on the grounds that such hymns provide some sort of parallel to the liturgico-poetic 
nature of the two Aryan texts, the Rgveda and the Avesta. In addition, these two lan¬ 
guages are commonly held to be as approximately divergent as their Aryan counterparts. 10 
He dates these psalms to a mean of about 1500 c.e . 11 Adopting Woolner’s method, 
but adjusting the dates he assigns to the Veda, the Avesta and the joint Indo-Iranian 
period to reflect the more recent opinion of specialists (which will produce results that 
illustrate his point even more effectively than the dates he adopts), we will follow Boyce 
in dating the upper limits of the oldest parts of the Avesta to 1500 b.c.e., the acceptable 
date of 1500 b.c.e. for the Veda (Witzel’s earlier date of 1700 BCE works just as well, as 
does a later one of 1200 b.c.e. for either text) and assign a (relatively) uncontroversial 
date of about 2000 bce for the common Indo-Iranian period. This produces a period of 
about five hundred years drat seems to represent, by communi consensu, the time taken 
for the two dialects to split from their common origin. 

The point is that upon applying this five-hundred-year period to the supposedly par¬ 
allel case of the Romance languages, one would arrive at a date for the common Latin 
period of 1000 c.e. (1500—500), which, as Woolner’s notes, is “patently absurd,” being 
about twelve centuries too late! If, Woolner argues, we calculate the period we know 
elapsed from the Latinization of Spain (we have the Roman colonization of this area as 
a definite historic starting point for the Latin origin of Spanish) until the period when 
Spanish and Italian had taken their distinctive forms as represented in the psalms, we 
arrive at a figure of seventeen centuries. Applying this known figure of seventeen centu¬ 
ries to the hypothetical period separating the joint Indo-Iranian from Vedic and Avestan 
in 1500 b.c.e. (which is supposed to parallel the Romance situation), one would arrive 
at a period of 3200 b.c.e. for this proto-Indo-Iranian period. 12 

Obviously, there is much that can be challenged in such an exercise, since there are 
so many variables that can be brought into question. Moreover, die method is predi¬ 
cated on the assumptions of glottochronology, which is no longer accepted by most 
linguists, since, as I have noted, languages cannot be demonstrated to evolve at predict¬ 
able rates. But Woolner’s point, I think, is to show how arbitrary the allotment of any 
kind of chronological assignment actually is. Woolner (1986) concludes: “Perhaps it 
may be asked—is there then no limit? Can we equally go back to 3000 or even 4000 
BCE. 7 ” He concedes that it is doubtful whether anyone would propose so remote a 
date as 4000 b.c. for the actual text of any hymn, or for the Aryan settlement in the 
Punjab (which he accepts), but argues that “the highest possible date for the Vedic 
deities, and of many elements of Vedic culture, not to speak of possible reminiscences 
of older periods, is a very different matter” (83). Accepting such dates for the actual 
Vedic texts themselves would involve expecting philologers to allow a period of lin- 

The Date of the Veda 251 

guistic stability in a literary language that is far greater than anything recorded any¬ 
where else in the world. 

Most Indigenous Aryanists seem to feel that there is no convincing reason that this 
cannot be the case: after all, the oral recensions of the texts have been maintained with 
meticulous precision for at least three millennia, and this has no known parallel any¬ 
where else in the world. But apart from this, for well over a century, many Indian scholars 
(and several Western ones) have been convinced that the Vedic texts do actually con¬ 
tain solid philological evidence that requires the texts to be dated in the third or even 
fourth millennium b.c.e. (or earlier). This evidence is astronomical. 

Astronomy and Vedic Chronology 

Europeans first became interested in Indian astronomy for the same reasons that they 
eagerly scrutinized ancient Indian texts in general: there was a sense of concern regard¬ 
ing whether Sanskrit sources would discredit or substantiate Old Testament narrative. 
As we have seen, Sir William Jones was very preoccupied with the traditional date for 
the Kali Yuga. If this could be established, he felt confident that he could assign an 
average reign period to the kings of the pre-Kali Yuga dynasties and thereby determine 
whether Indian history could be accommodated within the generally accepted date for 
the Flood. 13 In 1790, he was the first to attempt to use the astronomical method to 
calculate the age of Parasara Muni, whom he supposed might have lived until the Kali 
Yuga. Taking statements from Varaha Mihira describing the position of the sun in the 
constellations at the equinoxes in Parasara’s time, and estimating the degree of differ¬ 
ence in its equinoctial position in his own time due to the precession of the equinoxes, 
Jones calculated that the Muni must have lived about 1181 b.c.e. The traditional date 
for the Kali Yuga, by such reckoning, was a serious miscalculation by the Brahmanas. 14 

H. T. Colebrooke (1803) also used this method to calculate the degree of difference 
between the constellation in which Spring, and hence the vernal equinox, began in the 
Veda and the constellation in which it began in his own time. He concluded that the 
Vedas “were not arranged in their present form earlier than the fourteenth century before 
the Christian era” (284). Like Jones, he too felt assured that this invalidated the tradi¬ 
tional date for the Kali Yuga. In his opinion, this information provided a terminus a 
quo for the compilation of the Vedas. Not all scholars were so conservative, however. 
The astronomer and onetime mayor of Paris, Jean-Sylvain Badly, in his Histoire de 
Uastronomie ancienne ex moderne (1805), felt that “these tables of the Brahmana are 
perhaps five or six thousand years old” (53; my translation). 15 Badly approved of the 
traditional date of the Kali Yuga, and seemed to have convinced at least some of his 
colleagues such as Laplace and Playfair of the accuracy of the Indian astronomical claims 
(Kay, [1924] 1981, 2). This was bitterly opposed by another astronomer, John Bentley 
([1825] 1981), with a concern that we have seen was typical for the times: “If we are to 
believe in the antiquity of Hindu books, as he would wish us, then the Mosaic account 
is all a fable, or a fiction” (xxvii). As was discussed in chapter 1, much was at stake in 
such differences over the antiquity of the Indian sources. 

Almost a century later, in 1894, another remarkable controversy erupted briefly in 
the pages of Indian Antiquary and other Indological journals concerning sensational claims 


The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

for determining the dates of Vedic texts. Bal Gangadhar (Lokamanya) Tilak and Herman 
Jacobi, completely independently of each other and initially oblivious of each other’s 
research, claimed a great antiquity for Vedic culture on the basis of astronomical clues 
that were hidden in the Brahmanas and other Vedic texts, and one far greater than 
anything that was under consideration in the academic circles of their day. 16 The two 
scholars submitted their results to Btihler for his consideration within six weeks of each 
other. After their findings had been made public, Biihler published an article of his 
own, which approved of their basic conclusions and contributed additional material in 
support of their arguments. These publications were followed in 1895 by three responses, 
from W. D. Whitney (published posthumously), G. Thibaut, and H. Oldenberg—all of 
which attempted to refute the arguments of Jacobi and Tilak. 

After this sudden and quite dramatic interchange, and although Jacobi continued to 
defend his contentions, (see Jacobi 1895, 1909, 1910), the astrochronological method 
disappeared from the pages of Indological journals—at least in mainstream academic 
circles in the West. Tilak, unbowed, went on to use his findings in his book The Arctic 
Home of the Aryans. As is obvious from the title of this book, Tilak was not attempting 
to assert that India was the homeland of the Aryans—he accepted, at least at this point, 
that the Aryans had invaded India—but was arguing that the Vedic texts might be much 
older than had been generally acknowledged. 1 ' He had also begun to prepare another 
book on the subject before his demise, of which the introduction, the first chapter, the 
outlines of eight more chapters, and some incomplete appendixes were published post¬ 
humously under the title Vedic Chronology and Vedanga Jyotisha. Since then, numerous 
Indian scholars have continued to insist that the method and its conclusions are valid. 
In 1965, N. N. Law, founder-editor of the Indian Historical Quarterly, resurrected the 
whole debate in support of the positions of Jacobi and Tilak, and die “astronomical 
evidence” has kept surfacing ever since. As Pingree (1970) puts it, “speculations abound 
concerning alleged astronomical data in the Vedas, in the Brahmanas, and in other early 
Sanskrit Texts” (534). 

The astronomical data are not dismissed quite so lightly by most Indian specialists 
in this field. 18 The Indian National Science Academy of New Delhi, for example, pub¬ 
lished a History of Astronomy in India in 1985, wherein the Indus Valley and the Brahmana 
period are correlated, and dates in the seventh millennium b.c.e. for the Vedas are 
proposed. In 1994, a number of the papers at a conference at the B. M. Birla Science 
Center and Planetarium in Hyderabad on “Ancient Indian Chronology” were based 
on astronomical claims. Such assertions have a direct bearing on the age of the Rgveda 
and, hence, on the greater issue of Indo-Aryan origins. The Rgveda is located primarily 
in the Punjab. If these claims of enormous antiquity for the texts have any validity, then 
the case for the Indo-Aryans being placed in this area at a time early enough to super¬ 
sede any attempt being made to trace them archaeologically or even to decipher the Indus 
script becomes much more feasible. Accordingly, since die astronomical debate is clearly 
not settled in the minds of many scholars, it seems useful and relevant to examine the 
more sober and carefully presented arguments connected with this method. 

The main issues involved here are actually not astronomical; that is to say, the con¬ 
troversy is not one involving the actual astronomical computations, which are quite 
elementary and not under dispute. As Tilak remarks, the debate is primarily exegetical 
and to be judicated by Indologists who need not feel they must defer to astronomers. 19 

The Date of the Veda 253 

The controversy is over the interpretation of certain passages in Vedic texts. The only 
technical astronomical knowledge required to evaluate this method is that of the preces- 
sion of the equinoxes. The rate of precession is best calculated on the basis of any of 
four conspicuous days that occur during the course of the sun around the heavens: the 
two solstices (summer and winter) and the two equinoxes (vernal and autumnal). 20 
Because the earth wobbles on its axis like a slowly spinning top, solar events located 
upon the celestial equator, 21 such as the equinoxes and solstices, also slowly drift among 
the stars in the celestial sphere. This westward drift is called the precession of the 

Since the Indie system is moon-based, the celestial sphere is divided into twenty- 
seven naksatras ‘lunar mansions’ or constellations in Indian astronomy (Western 
astronomers have divided the celestial sphere into the twelve constellations, since West¬ 
ern astronomy is based on the movements of the sun). It takes 27.3 days for the moon 
to make a complete revolution in the sky, so the celestial sphere was divided into twenty- 
seven portions such that the moon could appear in a different constellation each night. 
It takes approximately twenty-six thousand years for a point on the celestial equator to 
make a full circuit of the celestial sphere as the result of precession. Since the Indian 
naksatras are twenty-seven in number, points such as the equinoxes or solstices will be 
situated in a particular naksatra for about a thousand years before slowly moving into 
the adjacent naksatra. In a period overlapping about 3000 b.c.e., the sun would have 
been in the naksatra constellation of Mrgasira at the vernal equinox; around 2000 b.c.e., 
in Krttikd; in about 1000 b.c.e. in AsVini, and so on to the present day. Obviously, 
such a phenomenon can be an invaluable tool for dating ancient texts or inscriptions, 
provided they contain unambiguous information about the position of the sun or full 
moon in the zodiac at the equinoctial or solstitial points and provided these points have 
been calculated accurately. 

Our knowledge of Vedic astronomy 22 is gleaned mostly from peripheral statements— 
usually connected with the times prescribed for performing sacrifice. Although there 
were professional naksatra darsas ‘observers of the lunar mansions’ at the time of the 
Brahmanas (see Vajasaneyi Samhita, xxx, 10; TaittirTya Brahmana, iii, 4, 4, 1 ), the 
oldest astronomical manual preserved for posterity is the Vedangajyotisa, whose date 
will be discussed later. In terms of specific astronomical information enunciated in the 
Vedic texts that is relevant to this debate, there is a year of 360 days mentioned in the 
Rgveda, called samvatsara, which was divided into twelve months. 23 The months were 
divided into two paksas: puwapaksa, between new moon and full moon, and aparapaksa, 
between full moon and new moon. The year was divided into two ayanas: the uttarayana , 
the six months when the sun travels north from its course nearest the horizon—from 
winter solstice to summer solstice—and the daksinayana, or pitryana, when it travels back 
down to the south. There is no explicit mention of solstices or equinoxes, although 
knowledge of the solstices, at least, is implicit in any awareness of ayanas. There are 
twenty-seven or twenty-eight naksatras, which are always listed in the texts as beginning 
with Krittikd (several of which are mentioned in the Rgveda). The first explicit reference 
to the beginning of the year, which is the crucial issue in this method, occurs in the 
Vedangajyotisa, which states that the new year begins at the winter solstice. In the his¬ 
torical period there were several year beginnings, and both Jacobi and Tilak argue that 
the same was also the case in the Vedic period. 24 

254 The Quest for the Origin of Vedic Culture 

I would like to reassure the reader at the outset that this section does not involve 
technical astronomical calculations, although there is an unavoidable plethora of naksatra 
names occurring in close juxtaposition that can be difficult to keep track of. The confu¬ 
sion is exacerbated by the need to remember whether the sun, the moon, or the month 
is being referred to, whether these are in conjunction with one of the solstices or one 
of the equinoxes, and which epoch in time is being discussed; keeping track of this 
material can be frustrating. I have attempted to spell everything out as clearly as pos¬ 
sible to minimize confusion, and have bypassed the technicalities of Jacobi’s, Tilak’s, 
and Thibaut’s interpretations of the astronomical passages, along with N. N. Law’s 
counterresponses for which the reader can best refer to the originals. I will give only a 
brief summary of some of these arguments in this section, focusing primarily on the 
different underlying assumptions involved in the debate. It will be helpful to refer to 
table 12.1 for the next section. 

Beginning with the more speculative and controversial claims, Jacobi (1909) com¬ 
bining the interpretations of two separate hymns, found reason to suppose that at the 
time of the Rgveda, one of the dates for beginning the year was at the commencement 
of the rainy season—which corresponds with the summer solstice—with the sun in 
Phalgunl. 25 This would have occurred sometime between 4500 and 2500 b.c.e. (see table). 
He bolsters this claim by finding other statements from various sutras which prescribe 
the commencement of the updkarana, the period dedicated to study, for the rainy sea¬ 
son (and, hence, the summer solstice) with the full moon in Bhadrapada. As can be 
seen from the table, the full moon was in Bhadrapada when the sun was in Phalgunl 
during this 4500-2500 b.c.e. period. 

However, Jacobi found other sutras that prescribed the full moon of Sravand for the 
same event (which the table chart indicates occurred in the period 2500-600 b.c.e.). Jacobi 
explains this discrepancy by claiming that the former prescription occurred during an 
earlier period, but, in the course of a millennium or more, due to the precession of the 
equinoxes, the summer solstice no longer coincided with the full moon in Bhadrapada 
but with that in Sravand instead. Out of deference to the sanctity of the Veda, the out¬ 
dated prescription was not removed from some of the texts. Buhler, in support of Jacobi’s 
(and Tilak’s) line of reasoning, found references in eighteen different sutras assigning 
either one or the other, or both, of these full moons as suitable for the event. He, too, 
felt that the older, outdated prescriptions were sometimes replaced, and sometimes kept 
or juxtaposed alongside the more current prescriptions, out of deference to the sanctity 
of the texts. 

Table 1 2.1 The processional chart of Naksatras. 

Time of year 

4500-2500 b.c.e. 


600 B.C.E. 

of sun 

of full moon 

of sun 

of full moon 

Vernal equinox 





Summer solstice 





Autumn equinox 





Winter solstice 





The Date of the Veda 255 

Tilak arrived at identical conclusions, although mostly supported by different pas¬ 
sages and, unaware of Jacobi’s work at the time of his research. Coincidentally, both 
Jacobi and Tilak did note in harmony that the etymological meanings of the naksatras 
make perfect sense when connected with the various year beginnings that they have 
postulated for this 4500-2500 b.c.e. epoch (i.e., Mula ‘root’ and its older name Vicrtau 
‘the dividers’, both terms appropriate for the first month of the year, as is the term for 
the preceding month—the last month of the previous year—called Jyestha 'the oldest’). 
Like Jacobi, Tilak, also finds support for a year beginning with the summer solstice in 
this ancient period. Among a variety of arguments, he notes that the pitrydna, the fort¬ 
night dedicated to the forefathers, is prescribed for the two weeks after the full moon in 
Bhadrapada. He wonders why this date was selected and argues that this makes perfect 
sense sometime during the 4500-2500 b.c.e. period. At this time, this two-week period 
would have occurred right after the summer solstice (with the sun in Phalguni ) and would 
then have been the first two weeks of the pitrydna, the six months of the year dedicated 
to the pitrs, when the sun begins its journey ( ayana ) southward. Situating the two-week 
ceremony to the pitrs at the beginning of the pitrydna made logical and coherent sense 
to him. Nowadays, due to precession, the fortnight of the pitrs no longer corresponds to 
the first two weeks of pitrydna. Tilak held that there is no other logical reason or expla¬ 
nation for its present occurrence and observation in the middle of the pitrydna. 

Like Jacobi and Buhler, Tilak also argues that these ancient prescriptions were main¬ 
tained in some texts out of deference to the sanctity of the sacred texts and juxtaposed 
with other dates that were inserted in later periods to correspond more accurately to 
later astronomical situations. Tilak produces a variety of passages that he believes sup¬ 
port the later epoch with the year beginning with the sun in Krttikd (Pleiades) at the 
vernal equinox in around 2500 b.c.e.. For example, he notes that the earlier texts often 
refer to the Krttikd as the beginning, or mukharn ‘mouth’ ot the year. Tilak considers 
that this beginning must have once occurred a